This July the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 1013, a bill that narrowed the definition of Aggravated Murder and drastically reduced the number of murderers in this state who are eligible for the death penalty. While reasonable minds can differ on the morality of capital punishment, we should all agree that our laws need to be clearly written and not cause unnecessary harm to victims.
Unfortunately, this confusing law has done exactly that – harm victims. Sheriff Pixley and I are advocating for a special legislative session so that the law can be fixed. The sponsors of the bill said that it would not be retroactive and would only apply to future crimes. That was important to ensure that victims won’t have to relive tragedies by having their cases reopened. Now it turns out that the bill is retroactive after all, and some victims may have to suffer the agony of having their cases reopened again. Sheriff Pixley and I will never fully understand what a family of a murder victim goes through, but we know enough to know that they shouldn’t have to go through it more than once.
The law as it is currently written not only creates uncertainty for victims, but also for Columbia County law enforcement and prosecutors statewide. Regardless of where we stand on the death penalty, we all want truth in legislating. The death penalty bill as it is currently written fails in this regard, and Governor Brown should call a special session of the Legislature to fix it.
Last Thursday, several of my fellow District Attorneys and I met with the Governor to discuss a fix to Senate Bill 1013. We had a simple and modest request: call a one-day special session that makes it clear that the new death penalty laws only apply to crimes committed after the bill’s effective date. I was very encouraged by the governor’s willingness to hear our concerns. We have also spoken with Senator Betsy Johnson and our Representative Brad Witt. They voted against this bill to begin with, in part to avoid this chaos and confusion.
Brown and the legislators who supported this bill now must decide whether the assurances made on the floor of Oregon’s Capitol mean something. Families of murder victims deserve closure and finality. Sheriff Pixley and I hope you will join us in our call for a one-day special session to fix the state’s death penalty law and stop it from being retroactive.