Capital punishment in Oregon

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Capital punishment is a legal penalty in the U.S. state of Oregon.

In November 2011, Governor John Kitzhaber announced a moratorium on executions in Oregon, canceling a planned execution and ordering a review of the death penalty system in the state.[1] Kitzhaber's successor, Governor Kate Brown, affirmed her commitment to the moratorium.[2]

Legal process[edit]

Oregon is the only American state where someone can be convicted of a capital crime without a unanimous verdict from the jury: 11 jurors are enough to find the defendant guilty, unless the prosecution requests a unanimous verdict.[3]

But if the prosecution seeks the death penalty, the sentence is decided by the jury and must always be unanimous.

In case of a hung jury during the penalty phase of the trial, a life sentence is issued, even if a single juror opposed death (there is no retrial).[4]

The Governor of Oregon has sole authority over clemency, including capital cases.[5]

The method of execution is lethal injection.

The men's death row is located, and executions are carried out, at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem.[6] Women on death row are held at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility until shortly before their execution.[7]

Capital crimes[edit]

Aggravated murder is the only crime punishable by death in Oregon. It is defined as murder involving any of the following circumstances:[8][9][10]

  1. The defendant committed the murder pursuant to an agreement that the defendant receive money or other thing of value for committing the murder.
  2. The defendant solicited another to commit the murder and paid or agreed to pay the person money or other thing of value for committing the murder.
  3. The defendant committed murder after having been convicted previously in any jurisdiction of any homicide, the elements of which constitute the crime of murder or manslaughter as defined by Oregon statutes.
  4. There was more than one murder victim in the same criminal episode.
  5. The homicide occurred in the course of or as a result of intentional maiming or torture of the victim.
  6. The victim of the intentional homicide was a person under the age of 14 years.
  7. The victim was a police officer, correctional, parole and probation officer or other person charged with the duty of custody, control, or supervision of convicted persons, a member of the Oregon State Police, judicial officer, juror, or witness in a criminal proceeding, employee or officer of a court of justice, or a member of the State Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision and the murder was related to the performance of the victim's duties in the justice system.
  8. The defendant committed murder by means of explosives.
  9. The defendant personally and intentionally committed the homicide in course of furtherance of another specified felony such as rape.
  10. The murder was committed in an effort to conceal the commission of a crime, or to conceal the identity of the perpetrator of a crime.
  11. The murder was committed after the defendant had escaped from a state, county, or municipal penal or correctional facility and before recapture.

Early history[edit]

The first death sentence carried out under the territorial government, apart from the hanging of the 5 Cayuse in 1850, came on April 18, 1851, when William Kendall was hanged in Salem.[11] Kendall's sentence was handed down by Judge William Strong of the Oregon Supreme Court.[11]

Since 1904, about 60 Five Cayuse Native American men were taken to Oregon City, tried and sentenced to hang. Before their execution on June 3, 1850, the leader, Tiloukaikt, accepted Catholic last rites. Tiloukaikt spoke on the gallows, "Did not your missionaries teach us that Christ died to save his people? So we die to save our people." Capital punishment was made explicitly legal by statute in 1864, and executions have been carried out exclusively at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem since 1904. The death penalty was outlawed between 1914 and 1920, again between 1964 and 1978, and then again between a 1981 Oregon Supreme Court ruling and a 1984 ballot measure.

Oregon voters amended the Constitution in 1914, to repeal the death penalty, by a margin of 50.04%. The repeal was an initiative of Governor Oswald West.[12] However, the death penalty was restored in 1920 with 56% of voters favoring its use.[13] From 1864 to 1931, executions were carried out by hanging.[13] However, beginning with the execution of LeRoy Hershel McCarthy, on January 30, 1939, Oregon began using lethal gas in gas-chamber executions.[14] The state executed seventeen men in this manner.[13] The last of these gas-inhalation executions took place on 20 August 1962, with the execution of Leeroy Sanford McGahuey.[13] In 1964 voters passed Measure 1, a constitutional amendment prohibiting capital punishment, with 60% of voters approving. Governor Mark Hatfield commuted the sentences of three death row inmates two days later.[13]

Voters reenacted the death penalty in the general election of 1978, by statute; Measure 8 required the death penalty in certain murder cases. Measure 8 was overturned by the Oregon Supreme Court in 1981, on the grounds that it denied defendants the right to be tried by a jury of their peers.[13]

In 1984, Measure 6 amended the state constitution to once more make the death penalty legal. Measure 7, a statutory measure passed in the same year,[15] required a separate sentencing hearing before a jury in cases of aggravated murder.[13]

In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Penry v. Lynaugh affected the Oregon death penalty, because Oregon's law is based on the Texas law involved in the case. Seventeen Oregon cases were remanded for resentencing following Penry; eight convicts were re-sentenced to death.[13]

In 2000, the Benetton Group featured several inmates on Oregon's death row in a controversial anti-death penalty advertising campaign. Cesar Barone, Conan Wayne Hale, Jesse Caleb Compton, and Alberto Reyes Camarena were featured in the ad.[16]

Between 1904 and 1994, 115 people were sentenced to death in Oregon, and 58 of those were executed.[13]

List of individuals executed since 1978[edit]

Two people have been executed in Oregon since the reinstatement of capital punishment in 1978. Both waived their appeals and asked that the execution be carried out.

Name Date of execution Victim Governor
1 Douglas Franklin Wright September 6, 1996 William Marks and 2 others John Kitzhaber
2 Harry Charles Moore May 16, 1997 Thomas Lauri and Barbara Cunningham

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jung, Helen (November 22, 2011). "Gov. John Kitzhaber stops executions in Oregon, calls system 'compromised and inequitable'". The Oregonian. Retrieved November 22, 2011. 
  2. ^ Mapes, Jeff (February 2015). "Kate Brown says she opposes death penalty but refuses to rule out executions on her watch". OREGONLIVE. Oregonlive/The Oregonian. Retrieved June 25, 2015. 
  3. ^ "Section 136.450 - Number of jurors required for verdict". Retrieved June 16, 2016. 
  4. ^ "Section 163.150 - Sentencing for aggravated murder; proceedings; issues for jury". Retrieved June 16, 2016. 
  5. ^ "Oregon Constitution - Article V - Sec.14". Retrieved June 16, 2016. 
  6. ^ Oregon execution chamber
  7. ^ "Capital Punishment in Oregon -Statistics ." Oregon Department of Corrections. Retrieved on February 19, 2016.
  8. ^ Oregon Revised Statutes § 163.115
  9. ^ Oregon Revised Statutes § 163.095
  10. ^ Oregon Revised Statutes Chapter 163, includes legal definition of aggravated murder
  11. ^ a b Terry, John. Oregon's Trails - 'Necktie Parties' does justice to legal hangings in Oregon. The Oregonian, 6 November 2005.
  12. ^ Horner, John B. (1919). Oregon: Her History, Her Great Men, Her Literature. Press of the Gazette-Times. p. 313. 
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i "History of Capital Punishment in Oregon". Archived from the original on 2015-06-26. 
  14. ^ Christianson, Scott (26 July 2011). The Last Gasp: The Rise and Fall of the American Gas Chamber. University of California Press. p. 123. ISBN 978-0520271210. Retrieved June 25, 2015. 
  15. ^ Oregon Blue Book: Initiative, Referendum and Recall: 1980-1987
  16. ^ Danks, Holly (January 20, 2000). "Benetton features Oregon killers". The Oregonian. 

External links[edit]