Death penalty opponents seek Oregon vote

Of the Associated Press

SALEM — Death penalty opponents took their case to Oregon lawmakers Monday, imploring a state House committee to allow the public to vote on outlawing capital punishment.

The House Judiciary Committee took no action on the measure, which would ask voters in 2014 whether to amend the state constitution, making it illegal to execute anyone, including people already on death row.

“My plea today, as a citizen of Oregon, is do not kill in my name,” said Aba Gayle of Silverton, whose 19-year-old daughter, Catherine Blount, was murdered in 1980. “And most importantly of all, do not tarnish the name of my beautiful daughter with another senseless killing.”

Her daughter's killer, Douglas Mickey, is on death row in California.

Terri Hakim disagrees. She doesn't want to see any benefits for the father and son convicted of planting a bomb that killed her husband, Oregon State Police Senior Trooper Bill Hakim, at a Woodburn Bank in 2008.

Bruce and Joshua Turnidge should not be be let into the general prison population, where they might teach bomb-making techniques and anti-police ideologies to other inmates who will eventually be freed, Hakim said.

“This resolution is not a benefit for the people of the State of Oregon,” Hakim told lawmakers. “This is only enabling prisoners with more rights while taking them away from other victims.”

Death penalty critics arrived at their position for a variety of reasons. Some are morally opposed to the government taking someone's life. Others say it costs too much, or that the risk of executing an innocent person is too high.

“There is one way I know of for sure to prevent the execution of an innocent person,” said Jeff Ellis, a defense attorney and death penalty critic. “That is to replace the death penalty with life without parole.”

The Department of Corrections doesn't know how much extra it costs to house inmates on death row, spokeswoman Elizabeth Craig said. The Office of Public Defense Services estimated in 2011 that it would save $2.6 million a year if death was not a possible sentence for aggravated murder.

Oregon has 37 people on death row. Two men have been executed since Oregon voters reinstated the death penalty in 1984, both of whom waived their right to appeal their case.

Gov. John Kitzhaber wrote a letter supporting a public vote on the death penalty, saying he's personally opposed to the death penalty and “Oregon has an expensive and unworkable system that fails to meet basic standards of justice.”

“The hard truth is that in the (29) years since Oregonians reinstated the death penalty, it has only been carried out on two volunteers who waived their rights to appeal,” Kitzhaber wrote.

Kitzhaber issued a reprieve for Gary Haugen, who was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection in December 2011. At the time, the governor called for a public vote on the issue. Haugen is appealing the reprieve, saying it's invalid because he never agreed to accept it.

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