Oregon Governor Kate Brown said on Tuesday that all 17 inmates in the state awaiting execution have commuted their sentences and all death sentences will be commuted to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
With less than a month remaining in office, Brown said he is using his powers of clemency to commute sentences and his decision will go into effect Wednesday.
“I have long believed that justice is not advancing by taking a life and that the state should not be in the business of executing people – even if a heinous crime has put them in jail,” Brown said in a statement.
Oregon hasn’t executed a prisoner since 1997. At Brown’s first press conference since becoming governor in 2015, the Democrat announced that he would continue a moratorium on the death penalty imposed by his predecessor, former Governor John Kitzhaber.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 17 people have been executed in the US so far in 2022, all by injection, and in Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, Missouri, and Alabama.
Like Oregon, several other states are moving away from the death penalty.
In California, Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom placed a moratorium on executions in 2019 and closed the state’s execution chamber in San Quentin. A year ago, he moved to destroy America’s largest execution cell by moving all inmates to other prisons within two years.
In Oregon, Brown is known for exercising his power to grant pardon.
Brown has apologized to nearly 1,000 people convicted of crimes during the coronavirus pandemic. Two district attorneys, along with the families of crime victims, sued the governor and other state officials to stop the amnesty. But the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled in August that he acted within his jurisdiction.
Prosecutors specifically objected to Brown allowing 73 people convicted of murder, assault, rape and manslaughter under the age of 18 to apply for early release.
Brown said he had previously granted penalty relief to “people who have exhibited extraordinary growth and rehabilitation,” but that assessment did not apply in his final decision.
“This transition is not based on any remedial efforts by those at the time of execution,” Brown said. “Instead, it reflects the recognition that the death penalty is immoral. It is an irreversible punishment that does not allow for correction.”
The Oregon Department of Corrections announced in May 2020 that it will abolish the death penalty and reassign these inmates to other private housing units or general population units at the state penitentiary in Salem and other state prisons.
There were 17 names on the list of prisoners sentenced to death by the governor’s office.
But the state Department of Corrections’ website lists 21 names. But the death sentence for one of these inmates was overturned by the Oregon Supreme Court in 2021, as the crime he committed was no longer eligible for the death penalty under the 2019 law.
Officials in the governor’s office and the penitentiary did not immediately respond to attempts to reconcile the lists.