Guest Column

The initiative and referendum system was introduced by an obscure Oregon politician, Willian U’Ren. It’s been copied across the nation, allowing the people to decide important issues through direct votes.

It was used in 1914 to vote out the death penalty that Oregon had adopted shortly after the Civil War, in 1864. In 1920, voters reinstated it, and it stayed in effect until 1964, when Oregon became the last state, to date, to abolish the death penalty by vote of the people. In 1978 and again in 1984 voters made clear they wanted the penalty back.

Since then there have been many attempts to get voters to abolish capital punishment — all have failed, including two efforts in blue California in the last decade, and one in red Nebraska. This is not a classic liberal/conservative or Democrat/Republican issue.

Death row was abolished by Gov. Kate Brown earlier this year, and this month the Oregon Supreme Court reversed all but perhaps four of the 31 remaining inmates who had received a death sentence. The court based its decision, in theory, on 2019 legislation in Senate Bill 1013, sponsored by avowed enemies of the death penalty who knew they could never muster the legislative votes to overturn the people. Supporters and sponsors claimed the bill was nothing more than a cleanup of a messy law, that narrowed eligible murders to a tiny number of highly improbable murders (organized terrorists killing multiple victims)

Passage of SB 1013 required a major political sleight of hand by then-Rep. Jennifer Williamson and Sen. Floyd Prozanski, who specifically promised skeptical colleagues the bill would apply only to future cases. Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum’s office and Gov. Brown joined the chorus of deceit. After SB 1013 passed, Rosenblum’s office announced: the law would be retroactive. Brown continued to equivocate, promising to call a special session to consider the matter. She never did.

Christian Longo drowned his wife and young children in Newport. Dayton Leroy Rogers is a serial killer with six known victims. Randy Guzek murdered Rod and Lois Houser in Terrebonne in 1987. He’s been sentenced to death by four different Deschutes County juries over a 22-year period. None of these killers will ever receive their sentences. The supporters of SB 1013, now law, implied those murders just weren’t “bad enough.” The Oregon Supreme Court echoed that claim by saying murders like these three “do not fall within the narrow category of conduct that can be punished by death, as opposed to lesser sentences...”

Oregon executed two men in the mid-1990s, and they were “volunteers.” Under current law, killing two or even 20 people doesn’t qualify for the death penalty unless the murder was carried out by members of an organized terrorist group.

Tim McVeigh’s killing of 168 people in the Oklahoma City bombing would not qualify in Oregon.

The state Supreme Court’s decision cannot be appealed to the federal courts because its decision wasn’t based on the federal ban on cruel and unusual punishment. It was based on a state provision that is written identically to federal law, but interpreted in a way that resembles “states’ rights” — claims of the last century that allowed the depravities of slavery and various forms of discrimination.

Randy Guzek will be eligible for parole as soon as the parole board dockets his case. He’s eligible because at the time of his murders the only other sentence was life with a minimum of 30 years, and he completed his 30 about four years ago. The current district attorney showed up at the 2019 parole hearing for Mark Wilson, who was Guzek’s co-killer. John Hummel astonished the Houser family by announcing he supported granting parole for Wilson, who had agreed to a 40-year minimum.

The parole board has thus far ignored Hummel’s recommendation. Perhaps it will ignore Guzek, but the board is working with a different law now. If you don’t want to see him or the other killers released, write your district attorney and the governor.

Some people have moral, religious, or political reasons for opposing the death penalty.

National polling in 2021 by Pew Research Center revealed that more than 60% of Americans continue to support the penalty. Most Americans Favor the Death Penalty Despite Concerns About Its Administration | Pew Research Center

What do Oregonians think? Why not ask them, instead of engaging in trickery and deceit?

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Joshua Marquis was chief deputy district attorney in Bend from 1990 to 1994, and district attorney in Clatsop County from 1994 through 2018. He prosecuted the Guzek case in 1991, 1997, and 2010.

(7) comments

Anon909

Did anyone here even bother to read the article? It’s main thrust has little to do with whether or not you support of oppose the death penalty: What has died in Oregon is a pursuit of truth and honesty in government.

Clown Brown, and all of her minions in the executive branch wouldn’t know the Truth if it slapped them across the face. The manner in which the law was written and enacted makes a mockery of the law making process. Pure political farce - not unlike the state’s over-reactions to the Wuhan Flu, which continue to this day (November 4, 2021)

Tucker Rossetto

I will never understand the lust that proponents of the death penalty have for killing someone. "This person committed murder; awful, atrocious, murder. Therefore, we must murder this person." So much for the better angels of our nature.

Smedley Doright

I don't support the death penalty on principle, but am willing to make a carve out for politicians who lie, or otherwise hide the truth. Slow execution could make for better politicians in the future.

MatthewC

We know for a fact that many innocent people have been convicted of terrible crimes. Judges, juries, prosecutors, and defenders are the same flawed people as the rest of us. There is no way to write laws that guarentee only the truly guilty are executed, and even one innocent execution should be unacceptable. There are many things that simply should not be decided by popular vote, but instead by deliberations of informed, elected reprentatives of the people. The state effectively ending executions in Oregon was the right thing to do.

Janus81

Please name the innocents convicted in the last 30 years in Bend. And no, not the child abuser. He just got the current wimpy DA and AG to quit even trying to convict him, after he was convicted once. If this is that common, you must have names...in Deschutes County. And since we are talking MURDER cases, what murder cases were the people convicted - let's say ANYWHERE in Oregon for the last 50 years - where they were in fact "innocent."

69631

Murder is murder, whether it's done by a crackhead, business partner, or the state.

Janus81

If you think an execution after 30 years of appeals is anything remotely like murdering someone in their home at 3 a.m. you need a reality check. Or if you are taking the "absolutist" view whenever a police officer shoot and kills someone, it is "murder" no matter how justified. Same with soldiers.

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