Capital punishment in Oregon

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Capital punishment is legal in the U.S. state of Oregon. The first execution under the territorial government was in 1850.

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.

Since 1904, about 60 individuals have been executed in Oregon. Thirty-five people are on Oregon's death row as of 11 February 2015.[1] The current method of execution in Oregon is lethal injection. Aggravated murder is the only crime subject to the penalty of death under Oregon law.

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.[2] Kitzhaber's successor, Governor Kate Brown reaffirmed her commitment to the moratorium.[3]


The Oregon Constitution originally had no provision for a death penalty. A statute was enacted in 1864 allowing for the death penalty in cases of first degree murder. Authority to conduct executions was initially granted to local sheriffs, but in 1903, the Oregon Legislative Assembly passed a law requiring all executions to be conducted at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem.[4]

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.[5] However, the death penalty was restored in 1920 with 56% of voters favoring its use.[4] From 1864 to 1931, executions were carried out by hanging.[4] However, beginning with the execution of LeRoy Hershel McCarthy, on January 30, 1939, Oregon began using lethal gas in gas-chamber executions.[6] The state executed seventeen men in this manner.[4] The last of these gas-chamber executions took place on 20 August 1962, with the execution of Leeroy Sanford McGahuey.[4] In the 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.[4]

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.[4]

In 1984, Measure 6 amended the Constitution to once more make the death penalty legal. Measure 7, a statutory measure passed in the same year,[7] required a separate sentencing hearing before a jury in cases of aggravated murder.[4]

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. 17 Oregon cases were remanded for resentencing following Penry; eight convicts were re-sentenced to death.[4]

In 2000, the Benetton Group featured several inmates on Oregon's death row in a controversial, anti-death penalty ad campaign. Cesar Barone, Conan Wayne Hale, Jesse Caleb Compton, and Alberto Reyes Camarena were featured in the ad.[8]

Between 1904 and 1994, 115 people were sentenced to death in Oregon, and 58 of those were executed.[4]


The jury decides the sentence in Oregon for the crime of aggravated murder, as proscribed by ORS 163.105.[4] Death, imprisonment without parole and life imprisonment are allowed as sentences. Life imprisonment must have a minimum period where the defendant is not allowed parole of thirty years. Mitigating and aggravating factors are to be considered during sentencing.

Mitigating factors:

  • Whether the conduct of the defendant that caused the death of the deceased was committed deliberately and with the reasonable expectation that death of the deceased or another would result;
  • Whether there is a probability that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society;
  • If raised by the evidence, whether the conduct of the defendant in killing the deceased was unreasonable in response to the provocation, if any, by the deceased; and
  • Whether the defendant should receive a death sentence.

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

As in any other state, people who are under 18 at the time of commission of the capital crime [9] or mentally retarded[10] are constitutionally precluded from being executed.


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] Hangings were conducted by local sheriffs until 1903, when executions were moved to the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem.[11] Capital punishment in Oregon was carried out by hanging until 1931. The gas chamber was used from 1939 until 1962. In 1964 death penalty laws in Oregon were repealed and they were restored in 1978. Currently the sole method is lethal injection.

The men's death row is located, and executions are carried out, at the Oregon State Penitentiary. Women on death row are held at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility until shortly before their execution.[12]

Capital offenses[edit]

Aggravated murder is the only crime subject to capital punishment in Oregon. The crime is defined as murder[13] "committed under, or accompanied by, any of the following circumstances":[13]

  • The defendant committed the murder pursuant to an agreement that the defendant receive money or other thing of value for committing the murder.
  • 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.
  • The defendant committed murder after having been convicted previously in any jurisdiction of any homicide, the elements of which constitute the crime of murder as defined in Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS) 163.115 or manslaughter in the first degree as defined in ORS 163.118.
  • There was more than one murder victim in the same criminal episode as defined in ORS 131.505.
  • The homicide occurred in the course of or as a result of intentional maiming or torture of the victim.
  • The victim of the intentional homicide was a person under the age of 14 years.
  • 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.
  • The defendant committed murder by means of explosives.
  • The defendant personally and intentionally committed the homicide.
  • 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.
  • The murder was committed after the defendant had escaped from a state, county, or municipal penal or correctional facility and before recapture.

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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Capital Punishment in Oregon". Oregon Department of Corrections. 11 February 2015. p. 2. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 June 2015. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  2. ^ Jung, Helen (November 22, 2011). "Gov. John Kitzhaber stops executions in Oregon, calls system 'compromised and inequitable'". The Oregonian. Retrieved November 22, 2011. 
  3. ^ Mapes, Jeff. "Kate Brown says she opposes death penalty but refuses to rule out executions on her watch". OREGONLIVE. Oregonlive/The Oregonian. Retrieved 25 June 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "History of Capital Punishment in Oregon". Archived from the original on 2015-06-26. 
  5. ^ Horner, John B. (1919). Oregon: Her History, Her Great Men, Her Literature. Press of the Gazette-Times. p. 313. 
  6. ^ 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 25 June 2015. 
  7. ^ Oregon Blue Book: Initiative, Referendum and Recall: 1980-1987
  8. ^ Danks, Holly (20 January 2000). "Benetton features Oregon killers". The Oregonian. 
  9. ^ Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005)
  10. ^ Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002)
  11. ^ a b c Terry, John. Oregon's Trails - 'Necktie Parties' does justice to legal hangings in Oregon. The Oregonian, 6 November 2005.
  12. ^ "Capital Punishment in Oregon -Statistics ." Oregon Department of Corrections. Retrieved on February 19, 2016.
  13. ^ a b as defined in ORS 163.115

External links[edit]