Oregon lawmakers work to clarify new death penalty law

Oregon lawmakers are trying to clarify a controversial law that reclassifies what crimes warrant the death penalty. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Wednesday she wants to call a special session.

Posted: Aug 29, 2019 4:01 AM
Updated: Oct 1, 2020 9:48 AM

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Wednesday she wants to call a special session of the Legislature because of questions raised whether a new law which narrows death penalty cases is retroactive.

With the new law taking effect next month, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum also said she supports a special legislative session “to make sure our courts, prosecutors, defenders, victims and others have the clarity and guidance they need in connection with our most serious criminal cases.”

“We must make sure we get this law right,” Rosenblum said.

The bill narrows the state’s use of the death penalty by substantially limiting the crimes that qualify.

After Brown signed the bill on Aug. 1, lawyers for Martin Allen Johnson, who authorities say raped and murdered a 15-year-old girl in 1998 before throwing her body off a bridge, raised the issue of whether the new law applies to him.

A judge determined the crime no longer qualifies as aggravated murder under the new law. Other cases could be affected.

The new state law that takes effect Sept. 29 narrows the definition of aggravated murder, the only crime eligible for a death sentence. The law states that aggravated murder is limited to killing two or more people as an act of organized terrorism; killing a child younger than 14 intentionally and with premeditation; killing another person while locked incarcerated for a previous murder; or killing a police, correctional or probation officer.

House Republican Leader Carl Wilson said repealing the bill might be the best course in a special session, allowing ample time before the 2020 regular session to analyze the issue.

“The last thing we should do in this situation is quickly rush something through a compressed process,” Wilson said. “We do not want to compound the existing mistake by rushing a ‘fix’ through a daylong session in a hastily assembled committee.”

Brown, a Democrat, told reporters in a conference call that she expects Sen. Floyd Prozanski, a Democrat from the university town of Eugene who helped get the bill passed, to work with others to craft language to address the law’s retroactivity. Then she would call a special session, expected to last less than a day in September.

Prozanski said Wednesday it is imperative to move forward with a special session to provide a fix to the bill. It should clarify that it “only applies to offenses committed on or after the effective date,” Prozanski said. He is recommending a special session occur when the Legislature is already scheduled, from Sept. 16-18.

Wilson, who voted against the bill that passed in the House by a 33-26 vote, said Wednesday he prefers that any changes to the death penalty be referred to voters via a ballot measure.

Brown has extended a 2011 moratorium on the death penalty. The last execution in the state took place in 1997. The death penalty remains legal in 29 states, but only a handful regularly conduct executions.

Nationwide, 1,500 people have been executed since 1976.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 175121

Reported Deaths: 2460
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah34937568
Washington23491229
Marion20195299
Clackamas15386204
Lane11591144
Jackson9923127
Umatilla796883
Deschutes712972
Linn416063
Yamhill410175
Klamath349059
Polk344252
Malheur342858
Josephine306362
Douglas304765
Benton273218
Jefferson207032
Coos197531
Columbia154526
Union141624
Lincoln130220
Wasco129128
Hood River112529
Morrow107915
Clatsop8958
Crook88019
Baker85814
Curry5959
Tillamook5813
Lake4137
Grant4124
Harney3066
Wallowa1575
Sherman570
Gilliam561
Wheeler251
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 3718210

Reported Deaths: 61038
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles122899723653
Riverside2972154525
San Bernardino2947794555
San Diego2749603674
Orange2689624896
Santa Clara1170812013
Kern1078591322
Sacramento1011721646
Fresno1005621646
Alameda853671477
Ventura802301000
San Joaquin714311334
Contra Costa67019782
Stanislaus603831028
Tulare49383829
Monterey43267357
San Mateo41157560
San Francisco36032523
Santa Barbara33896446
Solano31875239
Merced31196452
Sonoma29696311
Imperial27987719
Kings22774245
Placer21751283
San Luis Obispo20917256
Madera16260239
Santa Cruz15571204
Marin13861226
Yolo13580200
Shasta11677217
Butte11573196
El Dorado9719109
Napa966679
Sutter9268109
Yuba609844
San Benito598663
Lassen566924
Tehama543056
Nevada445775
Tuolumne406664
Mendocino398747
Amador362551
Humboldt358737
Lake340943
Glenn235725
Colusa219816
Calaveras205551
Siskiyou194021
Inyo141738
Del Norte12747
Mono12734
Plumas6906
Modoc4884
Mariposa4247
Trinity3985
Sierra1100
Alpine880
Unassigned610
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