Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) announced Tuesday she was commuting the sentences of all 17 inmates awaiting execution in the state, shifting their death sentences to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Brown, who has less than a month left in her term in office, said she was using her executive clemency powers to commute the sentences, and that the order would take effect Wednesday.
Since taking office Brown has pardoned or commuted the sentences of nearly 50,000 people, the vast majority of which were for minor marijuana convictions from before the state legalized recreational cannabis in 2016.
In her Tuesday announcement, Brown said victims experience “pain and uncertainty” as they wait for decades while individuals sit on death row, adding, “My hope is that this commutation will bring us a significant step closer to finality in these cases.”
Critics quickly hit back. Rep. Vikki Breese-Iverson, leader of the minority Republicans in the Oregon House of Representatives, accused Brown of “a lack of responsible judgment.”
Criminal justice reform groups, meanwhile, have applauded Brown’s focus on clemency. In a statement after her announcement, the Oregon Justice Resource Center ’s executive director, Bobbin Singh, said it was past time to end the death penalty.
Only two people have been executed in Oregon since 1984, the year voters approved a constitutional amendment adopting the death penalty in limited circumstances. Douglas Franklin Wright, a serial killer linked to seven deaths between 1969 and 1991, was executed in 1996. Harry Charles Moore was executed in 1997. He was convicted of killing his half-sister and her former husband.
Former Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) oversaw both executions. In 2011 Kitzhaber blocked a scheduled execution and declared a moratorium, which Brown continued.
Oregon Gov.-elect Tina Kotek (D) has said she will continue the moratorium.