Oregon Democratic Governor Kate Brown has commuted all of the state’s death sentences, instead giving life without the possibility of parole to 17 inmates.
Brown announced the commutations in a statement on Tuesday.
“I have long believed that justice is not advanced by taking a life, and the state should not be in the business of executing people—even if a terrible crime placed them in prison,” she wrote.
“Since taking office in 2015, I have continued Oregon’s moratorium on executions because the death penalty is both dysfunctional and immoral,” the governor added. “Today I am commuting Oregon’s death row so that we will no longer have anyone serving a sentence of death and facing execution in this state. This is a value that many Oregonians share.”
The death penalty remains legal in Oregon. However, the state passed a bill in 2019 that nearly ends the practice.
Former Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber previously announced a death penalty moratorium in 2011 to stop the execution of Gary Haugen that year.
In her 2016 campaign, Brown said she planned to continue the moratorium, saying “serious concerns remain about the constitutionality and workability of the law.”
Oregon has not executed a prisoner since 1997.
The death penalty has been the focus of much debate in the state, with voters opposing it on two occasions and the Oregon Supreme Court striking it down in the past.
Brown’s action is one of her final moves ahead of her exit in 2023. Democratic Governor-elect Tina Kotek will be sworn in next month and has previously stated that she would continue Oregon’s death penalty moratorium.
“Oregon has not followed through on the death penalty in over 25 years, and as Governor, I would continue the current moratorium. I am personally opposed to the death penalty because of my religious beliefs,” Kotek said during her campaign.
Oregon Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp released a statement on Tuesday blasting Gov. Brown’s decision.
“This is another example of the Governor and the Democrats not abiding by the wishes of Oregonians,” he said. “Even in the final days of her term, Brown continues to disrespect victims of the most violent crimes.”
House Republican Leader Vikki Breese-Iverson also criticized Brown, saying she should have solicited input from other lawmakers and community members.
“Governor Brown has once again taken executive action with zero input from Oregonians and the legislature,” Breese-Iverson said in a statement. “Oregon has not executed an individual since 1997 and has only executed two criminals since voters adopted the death penalty in 1984. Her decisions do not consider the impact the victims and families will suffer in the months and years to come. Democrats have consistently chosen criminals over victims.”
A total of 27 states have laws that include the death penalty, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. In addition to Oregon, both California and Pennsylvania have declared a moratorium on executions.
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