The family members of Oregon murder victims are tearing into Gov. Kate Brown (D.) for commuting the sentences of the state's 17 death row inmates.
"I'm horrified and outraged and I don't know what this means. … Will true life be true life?" said Sue Shirley, whose parents were murdered in 1988. "All I know is that we never get to have a say."
Brown was a popular scapegoat during the 2022 Oregon gubernatorial race for a slew of failed left-wing policies on homelessness and crime. Even her former Democratic ally Tina Kotek, who in November was elected the Beaver State's next governor, distanced herself from Brown's record and attacked the outgoing governor in debates and interviews.
Brown's office did not respond to a request for comment. Oregon has not executed an inmate since the 1990s.
"I have long believed that justice is not advanced by taking a life, and the state should not be in the business of executing people—even if a terrible crime placed them in prison," Brown said in a statement, while acknowledging that victims' families have experienced "pain and uncertainty" from deferred sentences. She also said the decision was not made because of any "rehabilitative efforts" by the inmates.
Brown, who was voted America's most-hated governor for the last two years, did not give advance warning to the families that the sentences of their loved ones' killers would be commuted to life in prison without parole, the Oregonian reported. Some relatives of victims expressed concern that justice will never be served, as they have already endured many resentencing hearings and redefinitions of the criminal code, leading them to wonder whether the murderers may eventually be freed.
Brown was responsible for prolonging a moratorium on the death penalty begun by former governor John Kitzhaber (D.) in 2011. Oregon voters reinstated capital punishment in 1984 after the state's Supreme Court outlawed it three years earlier.
Her order will take effect Wednesday. She had already dismantled the building that housed the state's death chamber in 2020.
The Oregon Senate's Republican leader, Tim Knopp, criticized Brown for unilaterally deciding to commute the sentences, saying she hadn't put it up for a vote.
"Even in the final days of her term, Brown continues to disrespect victims of the most violent crimes," he said in a statement.
James Baker, whose daughter and grandchildren were brutally murdered around Christmas 2001, told the Oregonian that Brown's decision was "wrong and wrong."
"Every single year we can't forget, and every time Christmas rolls around, what we think about this," he said. "We have our scrapbooks and our pictures and we go through them around this time and realize these people are gone, and they are gone forever."
Terri Hakim, whose husband, a police officer, was killed by a father and son who bombed a bank in December 2008, called Brown's commutations "a very personal slap in the face." The clemency, she said, will "make it harder for the victims to go through their days, knowing that our governor is looking out for [the convicted murderers] and not us."