Gov. Kate Brown Empties Oregon’s Death Row

The governor will commute the sentences of the 17 people to life in prison without parole.

oregondeathrow Oregon's death row. (Leah Nash)

Gov. Kate Brown announced today he is commuting the sentences of all 17 people on death row in Oregon. Their sentences will become life in prison with no possibility of parole, beginning tomorrow.

“The death penalty is immoral,” Brown said in a statement. “It is an irreversible punishment that does not allow for correction; is wasteful of taxpayer dollars; does not make communities safer; and cannot be and never has been administered fairly and equitably.”

Lawmakers had already made it extremely difficult to sentence someone to death with the passage of Senate Bill 1013 in 2019, which limited the punishment to only the most heinous crimes. And in 2020, the Oregon Department of Corrections eliminated segregated death row housing—and moved the inmates to general population and other units.

But dozens of people remained sentenced to death in Oregon, awaiting an uncertain fate. The state has only executed two people in the past 50 years, and Brown has continued a moratorium on executions first put in place in 2011 by then-Gov. John Kitzhaber.

Advocates have criticized the practice of putting convicts to death, noting its irreversibility, racial disparities, and expense—not just in segregated housing costs but also legal bills. Four different juries have sentenced Randy Guzek to death, for example, in an ongoing legal saga that has stretched to the U.S. Supreme Court.

And there’s always the risk of error. In October, an appellate court granted a new trial to Oregon death row inmate Jesse Johnson, citing attorney errors and police bias.

Aliza Kaplan, director of the Criminal Justice Reform Clinic at Lewis & Clark College, hailed the governor’s decision. “It cleans the slate,” she said. “We’re starting over.”

These are the 17 people whose sentences have been commuted:

Jesse Caleb Compton, 45

Clinton Wendess Cunningham, 55

Randy Lee Guzek, 53

Gary Dwayne Haugen, 60

Michael James Hayward, 47

Robert Paul Langley Jr., 62

Christian Michael Longo, 48

Ernest Noland Lotches, 68

Michael Martin McDonnell, 71

Marco Antonio Montez, 60

Horacio Alberto Reyes-Camarena, 67

Ricardo Pineda Serrano, 47

Matthew Dwight Thompson, 52

Bruce Aldon Turnidge, 71

Joshua Abraham Turnidge, 46

Mike Spenser Washington Jr., 50

Tara Ellyssia Zyst, 49

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