Oregon’s struggle with the death penalty
Oregon has a long and tumultuous history with the death penalty, which has been repealed and reinstated seven times since hangings were carried out publicly more than 150 years ago.
Death by hanging was first made statutorily legal in 1864 as the penalty for murder, but the people amended the state constitution to abolish it in 1914.
Capital punishment was restored in 1920 by popular vote and executions were carried out by hanging at the Oregon State Penitentiary until 1939, when the state began using a gas chamber.
Seventeen executions were subsequently conducted by this method. In 1964, voters passed a constitutional amendment prohibiting capital punishment by a 60 percent margin.
Two days after that vote, former Gov. Mark O. Hatfield commuted the death sentences of the three inmates then on death row.
In 1978, voters reinstated the death penalty, which was declared unconstitutional and overturned by the Oregon Supreme Court in 1981.
Voters amended the constitution to once more make the death penalty legal in 1984. In the same year, a statutory law was approved that required a separate sentencing hearing before a jury in cases of aggravated murder.
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1988 that juries must be allowed to consider the mental impairment of a defendant as a mitigating factor led to Oregon retrying 17 cases of condemned prisoners. Eight convicts were again given the death penalty.
Between 1904 and 1994, 115 people were sentenced to death in Oregon, and 58 of those were executed.
There was then a 32-year span between executions in Oregon. The method of death had been changed to lethal injection by the time the last two executions took place in 1996 and 1997 under the direction of OSP Supt. Frank Thompson.
In 2011, former Gov. John Kitzhaber enacted a moratorium on executions, which he felt were morally wrong. The stay on executions was upheld by Gov. Kate Brown.
Oregon currently has 34 prisoners on death row and three have been there since 1988.
Thirty-three men are held in a segregated wing at OSP in Salem. The long condemned female prisoner is confined in a single cell at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville.
Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (OADP) is starting an educational push to rally public support for changes in the law that will make it more difficult to execute condemned prisoners...