Mixed reactions to Oregon governor commuting death row

Dec 14, 2022, 11:45 PM | Updated: Dec 15, 2022, 1:48 pm
FILE - Officials are seen at the West Coast Bank in Woodburn, Ore., where a bomb blast killed a loc...

FILE - Officials are seen at the West Coast Bank in Woodburn, Ore., where a bomb blast killed a local police officer and a state bomb disposal technician, on Dec. 13, 2008. The mayor of Woodburn has denounced Oregon Gov. Brown's decision to commute the death sentences of all 17 inmates awaiting execution in the state. Among those whose sentences have been commuted is Bruce and Joshua Turnidge, who were convicted of murder and placed on death row over the 2008 bombing. (Diane Stevenson/Statesman-Journal via AP, File)

(Diane Stevenson/Statesman-Journal via AP, File)

              FILE - Christian Longo listens to arguments during the sentencing phase of his trial on April 9, 2003, at the Lincoln County Courthouse in Newport, Ore. Longo was sentenced to death in Oregon in 2003 for killing his wife and their three children. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown's decision to commute all 17 of the state's death sentences has drawn mixed reactions. (Doug Beghtel/The Oregonian via AP, Pool, File)
            
              FILE - Bruce Turnidge, left, and his son, Joshua Turnidge sit during a court motion hearing on Feb. 23, 2010 in Salem, Ore. The mayor of Woodburn, Oregon, has denounced Oregon Gov. Brown's decision to commute the death sentences of all 17 inmates awaiting execution in the state. Among those whose sentences have been commuted is Bruce and Joshua Turnidge, who were convicted of murder and placed on death row over a 2008 bombing in Woodburn that killed the city's police captain and an Oregon state trooper and injured its police chief along with a bank employee. (Kobbi R. Blair/Statesman-Journal via AP, File)
            
              FILE - Officials are seen at the West Coast Bank in Woodburn, Ore., where a bomb blast killed a local police officer and a state bomb disposal technician, on Dec. 13, 2008. The mayor of Woodburn has denounced Oregon Gov. Brown's decision to commute the death sentences of all 17 inmates awaiting execution in the state. Among those whose sentences have been commuted is Bruce and Joshua Turnidge, who were convicted of murder and placed on death row over the 2008 bombing. (Diane Stevenson/Statesman-Journal via AP, File)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s decision to commute all of the state’s 17 death sentences and dismantle the state’s execution chamber has some, including a former prison superintendent-turned-abolitionist, lauding the move as the humane choice.

Others, including a small city mayor whose town was left scarred by a fatal bank bombing, see the change as a derailment of justice.

While Oregon has long wrestled with its position on capital punishment — voters have alternately abolished and reinstated it several times over the past century — in recent years the state’s Department of Corrections has been phasing out death row and the Legislature has passed a law narrowing the circumstances in which the death sentence can be imposed. Brown signed Senate Bill 1013 in 2019.

Brown’s order, which took effect on Wednesday and changes the 17 inmates’ death sentences to life in prison without the possibility of parole, cites that state law along with “the declining support for the death penalty in Oregon” as part of the impetus behind her decision.

The former superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary, Frank Thompson, who oversaw the state’s two most recent executions in 1996 and 1997, has pushed for repealing the death penalty since leaving the position. He testified in favor of SB 1013 and welcomed Brown’s announcement.

In a phone interview with The Associated Press, Thompson described shouldering the “huge responsibility” of overhauling the state’s capital punishment methods. When he began working as superintendent in 1994, Oregon was still conducting its executions by lethal gas.

“The protocols had not been updated to promote executing anyone by lethal injection,” Thompson told AP. “I don’t know that I can put into words how daunting and how tremendous that responsibility weighed on me.”

Thompson said that supervising executions, and training staff to conduct them, took an emotional toll that changed his stance on the death penalty.

“There have been restless nights. There have been dreams. There has been counseling of others that were a part of the process who were having difficulties,” he said. “But my involvement in the abolition movement for getting rid of the death penalty has been very redeeming for me.”

Advocates for crime victims have been more critical of Brown’s decision, saying it denies justice for people whose lives have been affected by violent criminals.

The mayor of Woodburn, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) south of Portland, called Brown’s order a “betrayal.” This week, the city is marking the 14th anniversary of a bank bombing that killed its police captain and an Oregon state trooper and injured its police chief, who lost a leg in the explosion, along with a bank employee. A jury in December 2010 convicted Bruce Turnidge and his son Joshua Turnidge of murder over the bombing, unanimously finding them guilty of all 18 counts against them and placing them on death row.

“I was shocked and angered to learn that Governor Brown unilaterally commuted the death sentences of the two murderers who committed these terrible crimes against our police officers and our community without consultations of apparent consideration of victims,” said the mayor, Frank Lonergan, in a statement. He said the order supersedes the legal process by undercutting the jury’s conviction.

Death sentences were also commuted for Christian Longo, who was sentenced to death in 2003 for killing his wife and their three children, and Jesse Compton, who was convicted of killing a 3-year-old girl in 1997.

In Oregon, Brown is known for exercising her authority to grant clemency.

During the coronavirus pandemic, Brown granted clemency to nearly 1,000 people convicted of crimes. Two district attorneys, along with family members of crime victims, sued the governor and other state officials to stop the clemency actions. But the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled in August that she acted within her authority.

Since 1914, Oregon voters have abolished and reinstated the death penalty several times. They most recently reinstated it in 1984, despite the Oregon Supreme Court declaring it unconstitutional three years prior. There have been two executions by lethal injection, in 1996 and 1997, since it was reinstated.

Some criminal justice reform groups are pushing to repeal the state’s death penalty once again. Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty is working on a ballot measure that would ask voters to abolish it, board chair Tom O’Connor said in a statement.

So far, 18 people have been executed in the U.S. in 2022, all by lethal injection, in Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, Missouri, Alabama and Mississippi, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

____

Claire Rush is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Claire on Twitter.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - A staff of Nissan car showroom wipes a car on Jan. 31, 2022, in Tokyo. Nissan reported a 55%...
Associated Press

Japan’s Nissan reports better profit as chip crunch eases

TOKYO (AP) — Nissan reported a 55% jump in October-December profit Thursday, as the Japanese automaker seeks to embark on a less bumpy journey with its French alliance partner Renault. Profit for the quarter at Yokohama-based Nissan Motor Co. totaled 50.6 billion yen ($386 million), up from 32.7 billion yen the previous year. Quarterly sales […]
1 day ago
Search teams and emergency aid from around the world are pouring into
Turkey and Syria as rescuers ...
Associated Press

Afghan women, children chase false rumor to Kabul airport

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Hundreds of Afghans, including women and children, dashed toward the Kabul airport after a false rumor spread that flights were leaving for Turkey to help rescue earthquake victims. Videos and photos posted on social media since Wednesday showed dozens of desperate people running on foot in the darkness and cold towards the […]
1 day ago
People warm up with fire in front of destroyed buildings in Antakya, southern Turkey, Wednesday, Fe...
Associated Press

Live Updates I Turkish president to visit quake-hit areas

Rescuers pulled more survivors from beneath the rubble of collapsed buildings Thursday, but hopes were starting to fade of finding many more people alive more than three days after a catastrophic earthquake and series of aftershocks hit Turkey and Syria, killing more than 16,000. The earthquake that razed thousands of buildings in Turkey and Syria […]
1 day ago
FILE - Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning gestures during a press conference at the Min...
Associated Press

Beijing calls US claims over balloons ‘information warfare’

BEIJING (AP) — China on Thursday said U.S. accusations that a downed Chinese balloon was part of an extensive surveillance program amount to “information warfare against China.” The Pentagon on Wednesday said the Chinese balloon shot down off the South Carolina coast Saturday was part of a program involving a number of such airships that […]
1 day ago
A worker stretches the Ukrainian flag before Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrival at the...
Associated Press

Zelenskyy wraps up European tour with visit to EU summit

BRUSSELS (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is wrapping up a whirlwind tour of his major European backers, already heading home with heaps of goodwill, promises of more military aid and, as hardware goes, France’s highest medal of honor. The European Union’s 27 leaders were awaiting the man in khaki in Brussels on Thursday, hoping […]
1 day ago
Heavy machinery moves coal as it is poured onto a stack near Muswellbrook in the Hunter Valley, Aus...
Associated Press

Australia rejects new coal mine on environmental grounds

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia has for the first time rejected a coal mining application based on environmental law. The government is under pressure to curb climate change by blocking all new coal and gas extraction projects. Australia is one of the world’s largest exporters of both fossil fuels, which are major sources of the […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Mixed reactions to Oregon governor commuting death row