Oregon Governor Kate Brown is commuting the sentences of 17 people on the state’s death row, effective on Wednesday. Those inmates — including one convicted in Deschutes County more than 30 years ago — will now spend the rest of their lives in prison without the possibility of parole.
The decision is drawing rebuke from the Republican leaders of the Oregon House and Senate, both of whom are from Central Oregon.
In a statement, Brown said she does not believe that justice can be found in taking a life.
“Since taking office in 2015, I have continued Oregon’s moratorium on executions because the death penalty is both dysfunctional and immoral. Today I am commuting Oregon’s death row so that we will no longer have anyone serving a sentence of death and facing execution in this state. This is a value that many Oregonians share,” Brown said.
Brown says her decision is not about any efforts that have been made to rehabilitate those who are serving on death row. She said it is a moral decision.
“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,” Brown said.
One of those whose death sentences will be commuted will be that of Randy Lee Guzek, 53. He was convicted in 1988 of the murders of a Terrebonne couple a year earlier. His case went through multiple sentencing phase trials.
Oregon has executed two death row inmates in the past 52 years. Voters have repeatedly implemented and repealed it from the state’s Constitution.
In 2011, then-Gov. John Kitzhaber implemented an execution moratorium, which Brown has continued until Tuesday’s announcement.
“I also recognize the pain and uncertainty victims experience as they wait for decades while individuals sit on death row—especially in states with moratoriums on executions—without resolution,” Brown concluded. “My hope is that this commutation will bring us a significant step closer to finality in these cases.”
The Oregon Department of Corrections effectively shut down death row in 2020 and moved inmates to the general population at state prisons.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.