Thursday, December 08, 2011
Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis: Oregon Governor Should Respect The Rule Of Law On Death Penalty
By JOSH MARQUIS
Clatsop County District Attorney
December 8, 2011
The state's district attorneys are responsible for ensuring that we are in fact a society that observes the rule of law.For that reason, many of us are profoundly disturbed by Gov. John Kitzhaber's abrupt pronouncement that no jury's verdict of death will be carried out during his term.
Kitzhaber's personal opposition to capital punishment has never been a secret, and yet when he ran for governor, some of us who are in favor of the death penalty as the ultimate punishment endorsed him. That was in part because the governor had respected the rule of law when it came to the execution of Douglas Franklin Wright in 1996, saying he (the governor) was "sworn to uphold the law and could not and would not intervene."That was the right decision legally and morally, and it respected the will of Oregonians, who twice in the past 30 years - in 1978 (by 64 percent of the vote) and then again in 1984 (by 75 percent of the vote) - have voted to reinstate capital punishment.
Gary Haugen, who was hoping for just this act by the governor, is not on death row for his first murder, but for his second murder, that of an inmate Haugen killed while doing a life sentence.
Sentencing someone to prison should not mean a sentence to "gladiatorial combat," and, yet, surely there are other sociopaths in prison who now have little to fear from committing another murder, of a corrections officer or inmate.
The governor cited a "broken system" that he called a "perversion of justice." No one on Oregon's death row has ever made a credible claim of actual innocence. No one has ever been removed from death row for police or prosecutorial misconduct.
He cited a U.S. Supreme Court decision a few years ago that banned the execution of murderers who committed their crimes before the age of 18. Oregon has never allowed such executions.
The governor cited problems in other states that have functionally abolished capital punishment without any input from voters. In 2006 voters in Wisconsin ap-proved an advisory measure to bring back the death penalty, which had not existed there since before the Civil War. The Legislature ignored their vote. In fact, the last time voters abolished the death penalty was in 1964 - here in Oregon.
Oregon voters made very clear their support of the death penalty in 1978 and, after the state Supreme Court overturned that vote, again in 1984. Since then, polls have shown even greater support for the option of death for certain killers who commit the worst kind of murder.
Look at the people who populate Oregon's death row and you'll understand why the editorial board of The Oregonian has distinguished Oregon from other states. We host Jesse Caleb Compton, who in 1997 sexually assaulted and murdered 3-year-old Tessalyn O'Cull. Conan Hale tortured and killed three young teenagers. Dayton LeRoy Rogers is a serial killer of women. All of those killers, and everyone else on death row, received excellent representation, often two or even three lawyers as well as a team of investigators, mitigation specialists and psychologists.
Studies show Deterrent Evidence-Based studies referenced by former University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein, now a member of President Obama's Cabinet, show that there is both a specific deterrent to capital punishment (Ted Bundy will never again kill a young woman) and also a general deterrent.
Statistics from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics show that while use of the death penalty increased by 26 percent in the first decade of the new millennium, the murder rate went down 22 percent in the same time period over the previous decade.
Oregonians are entrusted to make the most important decisions about their laws, from sentencing to end-of-life issues, and Oregon has a long tradition of listening to the voters when they make their will clear, so long as it does not violate the state or federal constitution.
Both state and federal courts have ruled that Oregon's capital punishment laws pass constitutional muster. Oregon prosecutors rarely ask for the death penalty, and jurors even more rarely impose it.
The "conversation" about the death penalty that the governor now wants has been ongoing for years. It can and should continue without casting aside the extraordinarily difficult decisions made by jurors, such as those who voted for death for Joshua and Bruce Turnidge, who intentionally exploded a bomb that murdered two police officers and grievously crippled a third. Or for Angela McAbulty the first woman sent to Oregon's death row in half a century, for the horrific torture murder of her own daughter. Or, for the fourth time in 22 years, for Randy Guzek, for the 1987 execution of Lois and Rod Houser.
The unique intersection of democracy and justice that is the death penalty must be respected