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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

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

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 33509

Reported Deaths: 559
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Multnomah7274140
Marion477996
Washington461560
Umatilla300441
Clackamas246663
Malheur165030
Lane129317
Jackson11906
Deschutes87312
Yamhill77414
Jefferson5458
Polk53515
Linn53213
Morrow5136
Lincoln48113
Union4462
Benton3286
Wasco2964
Klamath2902
Hood River2520
Douglas2434
Clatsop2210
Josephine2042
Columbia1841
Coos1600
Baker982
Crook631
Tillamook530
Lake340
Wallowa331
Curry320
Sherman180
Harney120
Grant100
Gilliam80
Unassigned00
Wheeler00

California Coronavirus Cases

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Confirmed Cases: 819115

Reported Deaths: 15885
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Los Angeles2702996576
Riverside594051226
San Bernardino55203955
Orange537511268
San Diego47180783
Kern32073369
Fresno28621390
Sacramento22590416
Alameda21383412
Santa Clara21379322
San Joaquin20411456
Contra Costa16793207
Stanislaus16512362
Tulare16204263
Ventura12875150
Imperial11908320
San Francisco11275104
Monterey1005073
San Mateo9990150
Santa Barbara9164113
Merced8961143
Kings768180
Sonoma7578122
Marin6734119
Solano644571
Madera458368
San Luis Obispo361231
Placer360448
Butte284844
Yolo282855
Santa Cruz239410
Napa172713
Sutter172011
San Benito135211
Yuba11728
El Dorado11514
Mendocino95418
Shasta94320
Lassen7410
Glenn5963
Tehama5855
Lake56611
Nevada5417
Colusa5356
Humboldt5128
Calaveras32214
Amador29616
Tuolumne2274
Inyo18815
Mono1662
Siskiyou1660
Del Norte1441
Mariposa762
Plumas500
Modoc270
Trinity160
Sierra60
Alpine20
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