By editorial board • 

Botched death penalty bill demands legislative action

There are lots of reasons to oppose the death penalty. Among them:

It disproportionately targets African Americans, who account for 42 percent of the death row population, but only 12 percent of the overall population. It disproportionately targets people of diminished mental capacity and financial means, as well.

It scoops up the innocent along with the guilty, as demonstrated by the exoneration of more than 160 death row inmates prior to execution. Thanks to the virtually endless appeals afforded by our legal system, it costs taxpayers three times as much as its natural life alternative.

Finally, it has proven utterly ineffective as a deterrent. And it violates the fundamental Christian commandment, “Thou shall not kill.”

We endorsed a measure in this year’s legislative session to substantially narrow the grounds on which the death penalty might be applied going forward. We did not, however, endorse its chaotic, uncertain and haphazard retroactive application, as dictated via retroactive Oregon Department of Justice decree.

We take umbrage with the about-face of House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, a lawyer who played a large role in shepherding the bill through. After repeatedly assuring the Legislature and electorate the measure would not and could not be applied retroactively, she has since admitted that was the intent all along — at least her intent, if no one else’s.

We also take issue with the inaction of Gov. Kate Brown, a timid soul displaying a severely limited leadership quotient. Urged to call a one-day special session to fix what everyone but Williamson seemed to view as an unintended flaw, she remained utterly mum before finally agreeing this week.

We’re happy with the result, but suspicious about the motive. Was she simply waiting for the most politically expedient option to reveal itself?

Among the cases left shrouded in uncertainty was that of Yamhill County’s Jeffery Dana Sparks, who capped a career of sexual assault and other crime by raping and murdering 12-year-old Lafayette resident Lacey Renee Robancho. Though he was condemned to death almost two decades ago, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled last year that he was legally entitled to reconsideration of his sentence.

The new rules would still allow execution for commission of the premeditated murder of a child under 14. But in Sparks’ case, proof of premeditation was not required at trial, so would remain subject to future judicial determination.

We are under no illusion that Oregon is ultimately going to execute Sparks, even if given the legal go-ahead. Except for a pair of men who swore off appeals, it hasn’t executed a death row inmate for well over half a century. And like its neighboring states to the north and south, it has a gubernatorial moratorium firmly in place.

But Oregonians deserve clarity, logic and certainty from their representatives. Forcing them to wallow in ambiguity on such a high-stakes issue is unacceptable to the point of being unforgivable.

Senate Bill 1013 set out to provide that. It still can, provided the Legislature restores its original intent.


Bill B

So the News Register is against the death penalty; what a surprise! I definitely think that Oregon should eliminate the death penalty. Why bother to incur all these costs when no one is going to get executed anyway.

That said, there are two assumptions here that many, including me, would take issue:

"It disproportionately targets African Americans, who account for 42 percent of the death row population, but only 12 percent of the overall population." Really. Under that logic, there is a disproportionate number of males targeted as they only account for 50% of the population.

Secondly, "Finally, it has proven utterly ineffective as a deterrent."
Based on what set of facts? How would we know if there hasn't been an execution in 50 years?


I couldn't agree with you more Bill B. There are numerous studies that show for every execution on average 10 murders are deterred. You would think the editorial board would be more appalled by SB1013 flying in the face of voters and the fecklessness of our governor not upholding the law.

Lindsay Berschauer

Oregon voters should be able to decide the fate of the death penalty and changes to our state constitution. Any effort to legislate the removal of voter-enacted laws should not be supported. The NR was right to call out House Majority Leader Williamson for her self-serving behavior. She lied to many of her colleagues about the intent of this bill, when some were carefully weighing their decisions. She also lied to Oregonians. Now we have to spend tax dollars for a special session to fix this egregious mistake. When SB 1008 and 1013 were being debated, many were concerned about retroactivity, including myself. When the brother of one of Kip Kinkel's victims came forward with concern, he was met with disdain and told he was fear-mongering. Turns out he was right. Victims rights advocates were rightly incensed by both bills that passed this session. We know now that they prioritized murderers over families who lost loved ones as a result. That is simply wrong. Oregon voters have every right to know what just happened, and I applaud the NR for speaking out.


Don’t forget to sign the recall Brown petitions, folks! I easily collected 2 more pages today just while sitting in a chair at the park with my recall sign. Do your part and get rid of that autocratic governor!

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