By editorial board • 

Narrowing death penalty basis a cause whose time has come

Uncompromising advocates complain by redefining aggravated murder to exclude all but acts of terrorism, Senate Bill 1013 would effectively eliminate future executions in Oregon.

Wrong. Shifting public opinion saw to that decades ago. SB 1013 would simply codify the status quo.

With the exception of two men opting to halt their appeals, Oregon hasn’t carried out an execution in 55 years. And there is little prospect it ever will again, regardless of the fate of the pending legislation.

In that, it joins its neighboring states to the north and south.

All three have stopped executions in recent years under gubernatorial moratoriums. And last year, a Supreme Court ruling made Washington the 20th state without death penalty provision.

By extension, that positions them with most of the civilized world.

The U.S. is the only western nation in which capital punishment remains an option, and joins China and Japan as the sole world powers. It ranked seventh in executions in 2016, the most recent year for which data is available, after China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan and Egypt.

Local Rep. Ron Noble, the lone Republican among SB 1013’s sponsors, takes his stand on moral grounds. He believes in the sanctity of life from womb to grave. But there are other compelling grounds for the less philosophical and more practical:

1) A direct descendant of lynching, it is used disproportionately in the South targeting African Americans. Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, Arkansas, Kentucky and Virginia account for the overwhelming majority. Meanwhile, African Americans represent merely 12 percent of the population, but 42 percent of death sentences.

2) More than 160 death row inmates have ultimately been exonerated in recent decades, proving we periodically get it wrong. But there’s no reversing an execution.

3) It is almost uniformly reserved for people of lesser financial means, mental capacity, psychological stability, family structure and legal counsel. That makes it manifestly unfair.

4)Repeated studies show the death penalty utterly ineffective as a deterrent. Killers tend to act out of rage or abiding faith in their invincibility.

5) It is subject to corrupt and authoritarian influence. That may be particularly true of Asian and Middle Eastern governments, but isn’t unknown here at home either.

6) Thanks to the virtually endless appeals our system affords, when the ultimate penalty is in play, capital cases cost taxpayers more than three times as much. Life without parole tends to produce the same result at a vastly reduced price.

7) Polls suggest opposition to capital punishment is more that 3-2 nationally and more than 2-1 in neighboring California. Does anyone seriously believe the death penalty claims majority support in Oregon today?

Senate Bill 1013 threads the needle. It doesn’t outlaw capital punishment outright, but limits it to acts of terrorism. And thankfully, those have virtually never visited our part of the country.

We join Noble, a former police chief who devoted most of his working life to law enforcement, in backing legislative action this session.


Web Design and Web Development by Buildable