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Oregon Death Penalty

Introduction
Capital punishment in Oregon has a history almost as long as the state is old. The death penalty became law four times in Oregon's history. It was voted out twice and struck down by the Oregon Supreme Court once. Executions, although an infrequent part of corrections in Oregon, pique the public's interest and hopefully will always remain a source of controversy, passion, and discourse.

Chemicals Used in the Procedure

Oregon Statute: "The punishment of death shall be inflicted by the intravenous administration of a lethal quantity of an ultra-short-acting barbiturate in combination with a chemical paralytic agent and potassium chloride or other equally effective substances sufficient to cause death."

  • Pentobarbital (induces unconsciousness)
  • Pancuronium Bromide (stops breathing)
  • Potassium Chloride (stops heart)

Death Row

Men with a sentence of death are housed at the Oregon State Penitentiary. Women with a sentence of death are housed at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility.

  • 29 people in DOC custody have a death sentence

Demographics

Demographics of adults in custody sentenced to death in Oregon:

Ethnic Representation:
  • 0 Asian
  • 2 African American
  • 3 Hispanic
  • 1 Native American
  • 23 White
Average Age: 53.6

Oldest: Eric Running (1/1951)

Youngest: Joshua Turnidge (6/1976)

Current average Length of Time on Death Row: Approximately 19.6 years

Counties of Conviction:
  • 1 Benton
  • 2 Clackamas
  • 2 Coos
  • 1 Deschutes
  • 2 Douglas
  • 6 Lane
  • 1 Lincoln
  • 5 Marion
  • 8 Multnomah
  • 1 Washington
  • 1 Yamhill

Law Reinstated in Oregon

Oregon reinstated capital punishment in 1984, but the state's first execution in 34 years did not occur until September 6, 1996. At 12:16 a.m., Douglas Franklin Wright died by lethal injection in the execution room at Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem. That event focused an enormous amount of interest, curiosity and attention on the Department of Corrections and how executions are conducted, what its like to live on death row, and the entire issue of capital punishment in Oregon.

Life on Death Row

Male offenders convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to death are transferred directly to the Oregon State Penitentiary. Female offenders are transferred directly to Coffee Creek Correctional Facility where they remain until shortly before the execution is scheduled.

Oregon's death row adults in custody (AICs) are single celled and segregated from the general population. All death row AICs are classified maximum custody Level 5. 

AICs on death row are permitted the same personal property in their cells as AICs in general population. Items AICs may purchase include televisions, radios, and MP3/4s (both to be used with headphones). A portable kiosk is rolled from unit-to-unit for individuals to charge their MP3/4. Tablets are also available on the units for AIC use. 

AICs may purchase items from the canteen (prison store) once per week. Canteen is delivered to the unit.

All individuals on the row are permitted to participate in the general population fundraisers and it is delivered to them on their unit. 

AICs may not keep a change of clothes in their cells, but rather must exchange clothing items on a one-for-one basis, three times a week.

Lights come on around 6:00 a.m., at which point the unit is opened for walks, on-unit recreation (with outside views and exercise equipment), and showers. Everything is contained on the unit in which death row AICs reside. During this time, they can shower, walk the unit, or use the recreation section on the unit.

AICs are allowed a minimum of 40 minutes of inside exercise (which may include showering and shaving) seven days a week. In addition, AICs may be provided an opportunity for outside exercise for one hour each day five days a week. Walks are scheduled in 40-minute increments and they can take place with one other person (two total). In addition to unit walks, there are two yard periods available every day when AICs can go outside and use the larger courts for basketball or weights. Multiple individuals can be in these recreation areas. AICs do have to sign up for this, but it's not limited in numbers. AICs who choose to forgo outside exercise are limited to the inside exercise period.

There is one legal cell on each housing unit and individuals can sign up to spend time in this cell. Time spent in the legal cell is considered separate from recreation time, so AICs do not have to choose one or the other. 

AICs consume breakfast, lunch, and dinner in their cells at regularly scheduled times.

AICs may place telephone calls using the AIC telephone system during facility scheduled times. Other calls may be allowed as necessary. There is a phone on the unit, plus a legal phone. AICs self-manage the use of the phones, and can take the phone to their cell. 

AICs are also provided one half hour of nondenominational religious counseling each week. If an AIC's spiritual needs cannot be met by prison clergy or volunteers, an outside spiritual advisor may be brought in.

Educational materials are provided to AICs upon written request and are subject to review. Everyone housed on the death row has a job; it is self-contained. Individuals clean, serve meals, etc. 

The unit is open until around 9:00 p.m. and lights are typically shut off around 10 p.m.

Prior to the COVID-19 precautions beginning in March 2020, individuals would sign up for visiting. Visiting takes place seven days per week and they have a two-hour time slot. Additional time can be granted upon request for certain circumstances. There are five visiting stations plus a legal station. Visits take place from 7:30AM- 3PM behind glass.

Death Row housing rules are articulated by Oregon Administrative Rules 291-93-005 to 291-93-020.

Execution Policies/Procedures

It is the policy of the Department of Corrections to fulfill its statutory responsibility to carry out death sentences while maintaining the safety and security of institutions as well as department staff and their families. Consistent with these policies, executions are conducted in a manner designed to protect the anonymity of department staff and other persons involved. Witnesses to executions agree not to describe, so as to identify, any staff.
 
Except as provided by statute, no employee of the Department of Corrections shall be required to participate in the execution of an inmate sentenced to death. The department provides professional support for all employees involved in an execution. 

Receiving a Death Warrant

Commonly 45 days or more before a specified execution date, a death warrant is issued by the trial court judge in the county of commitment. The superintendent of Oregon State Penitentiary notifies the director of the Department of Corrections that an execution is scheduled and will take place at about 7:00 p.m. on the date specified in the death warrant. The director, in turn, notifies the governor of the impending execution.
 
The superintendent also notifies the county medical examiner and requests the presence of the examiner or a representative at the execution and that the examiner be prepared to issue a certificate of death. The superintendent is responsible for selecting the executioner, whose identity remains confidential.
 
The director sends a written order to purchase the lethal substances required for execution, along with a copy of the judgment of the court imposing death, to a drug wholesaler. Supplies and equipment are also assembled and prepared by the superintendent or his designee.
 
Arrangements will be made to ensure the telephone company has installed two dedicated emergency telephone lines that will ring directly into the execution room. The director will advise the governor and the attorney general of the telephone procedures.
 
The assistant superintendent of security is responsible for selecting an eight-person special security team to assist with the execution. In the weeks leading up to the execution date the assistant superintendent of security and the special security team conduct drills simulating the movement and restraint of the inmate. They rehearse many scenarios along with medically trained personnel who are responsible for insertion of intravenous catheters and other staff who have assignments in the execution room. 

Witness to the Execution

A number of people are invited to witness an execution. These people are specified both in statute (ORS 137.473) and administrative rules (291-024-0020 (3)). They include: one or more physicians, the attorney general, the sheriff and district attorney of the county in which the judgment was rendered and one or more victim relatives. Additionally the inmate may select no more than five friends or relatives and no more than two religious representatives.
 
Five media representatives are invited to witness the execution: two selected by the Oregon Association of Broadcasters, two selected by the Oregon Newspaper Publishers´ Association (one of whom must be from the county in which judgment was rendered), and one representative of the Associated Press. These reporters will act as pool reporters for other media who are assembled in a designated media center on penitentiary grounds.
 
Other people, including peace officers, may be invited at the discretion of the superintendent.
 
Witnesses must be at least 18 and pass a security check. They also must be properly attired. 

Countdown to Execution

Two Days

 No less than two days prior to a scheduled execution date, the condemned inmate is transferred from his cell on death row to a special cell in the Special Management Housing (SMH), located within the walls of Oregon State Penitentiary. The execution room cell is adjacent to the 73.5 sq. ft. execution room. 
 
After transfer to the execution room cell, the condemned inmate is supervised twenty-four hours a day by a correctional officer, who keeps a log of all activities. All incoming mail is photocopied and the originals placed in storage in order to prevent the inmate receiving drug-infiltrated paper. The inmate is provided telephone privileges with the approval of the superintendent.
 
The condemned inmate is permitted one hour of exercise per day, so long as it causes no security or safety risks. The inmate is not permitted contact with any other inmates. He is served the same food as other inmates assigned to Special Management Housing. New institutional clothing is issued to the inmate and is exchanged as needed.
 
At the discretion of the superintendent there may be daily visits with members of the inmate's family, approved religious representatives, and others who are on the inmate's approved visiting list and requested by the inmate.
 
Forty-eight hours prior to execution, the superintendent ensures that all arrangements have been made for the execution and that sufficient additional correctional officers are scheduled to work the day of the execution.
 
The superintendent ensures that his/her executive assistant has either prepared or obtained a certificate of death that reflects the cause of death as execution by lethal injection. A form authorizing release of the body, to be signed by the mortician, is also prepared in advance.

One Day 

 Twenty-four hours prior to execution a medically trained individual prepares and secures the necessary syringes with the lethal solutions, and separately prepares and secures back-up syringes. Secure storage is the responsibility of the assistant superintendent of security.
 
Penitentiary staff work in concert with the Oregon State Police, the Salem Police and the Marion County Sheriff's office for perimeter security including crowd control, traffic control and penitentiary access. Inmate visiting may be limited or suspended the day before and after an execution.
 
A media center is set up on penitentiary grounds to accommodate the needs of the media. Only media who have arranged for credentials prior to the execution are admitted to the media center. 
 
The inmate's last meal is personally prepared by the food services manager or designee.
 
An emergency command center is established in the superintendent's office to manage institutional affairs during the hours preceding and immediately following an execution. The Assistant Superintendent of Transitional Services is assigned to manage the command center.
 
The emergency telephone lines in the Execution Room are checked periodically. The last check will be one half hour prior to the execution. The command center will establish radio contact with the officer-in-charge of Special Management Housing to ensure messages can be conveyed in the event institutional or emergency telephone lines become inoperable.
 
All witnesses and designated media representatives gather in pre-arranged locations approximately two hours prior to the execution. They remain under staff supervision while on penitentiary grounds. Prior to being escorted to Special Management Housing they are briefed by staff about procedures and what to expect; they are also visited by a counselor who offers information on the psychological effects of witnessing an execution. Security procedures require witnesses to pass through one or more metal detectors. Witnesses may not carry recording devices once they assemble on penitentiary grounds. The only hand-carried items allowed within the penitentiary are note pads and pens or pencils issued by the department. 

The Final Minutes

At 6:30 p.m. the Assistant Superintendent of Security confirms that the clock used to determine the time to carry out the execution is accurate. The superintendent accompanies the executioner(s) to the execution room and ensures that the confidentiality of the executioner is not compromised.
 
Witnesses are escorted into the viewing area and the closed circuit camera is turned on. The Special Security Team leader instructs the officer supervising the execution room cell to open the cell door. The leader supervises the activities of the Special Security Team members, who escort the inmate, in appropriate security restraints, from the cell and position and properly restrain the inmate on the table. There are no visits once the inmate has been moved to the execution room.
 
Medically trained individuals connect a heart monitor to the inmate which helps determine when death has occurred. They also insert two intravenous catheters -- one primary and one back-up -- in the most appropriate locations on the inmate's body, usually the arms and/or hands.
 
Correctional staff are stationed in the witness area to assist witnesses and maintain decorum. If at any point in the execution process a stay of execution is ordered, the superintendent shall halt all execution procedures and the witnesses shall be removed.

The Execution

Immediately prior to the execution, the Assistant Superintendent of Security inspects all straps and with the assistance of medically trained staff makes a final inspection of the intravenous catheters and the injection equipment. Upon authorization from the superintendent the window coverings are opened so the witnesses can see the inmate in position on the table. 
 
If no stay of execution has been received via the open phone lines to the governor and the attorney general, as soon after 7:00 p.m. as possible, the superintendent signals the executioner to begin injection of lethal solutions into the injection port of the intravenous catheters. As prescribed by ORS 137.473, the lethal solutions include an ultra-short acting barbiturate in combination with a chemical paralytic agent and potassium chloride or other equally effective substances sufficient to cause death.
 
The executioner signals the superintendent when infusion of the lethal substances has been completed. Once death occurs, the time is noted. The superintendent summons a medical professional to officially certify the inmate´s death. The superintendent announces the time of death to the witnesses. The time of death is conveyed via telephone to the communications manager who announces it to the media assembled in the media center.
 
After the execution all witnesses are escorted from the execution viewing area. Media witnesses are escorted to the media center to share their experiences and impressions with their colleagues as prearranged. Other witnesses are escorted off of penitentiary grounds.
 
The Assistant Superintendent of Security will remain to supervise the removal of the body. The body is released to a funeral home after the body is properly identified using identification photographs for comparison. The State Police are notified when the execution is complete and the body is ready for removal.
 
The inmate's predesignated contact person will be notified to contact the funeral home to which the inmate's body was taken. 

History

An enormous amount of attention was focused on the Department of Corrections (DOC) and the issue of capital punishment in 1996. On Friday, September 6, 1996, inmate Douglas Franklin Wright, 56, became the first person executed by lethal injection in Oregon. With promises of jobs, the convicted murderer lured five homeless men to the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in 1991 and shot four of them in cold blood. The fifth man escaped and alerted police. Wright was convicted on October 6, 1993 of eight counts of aggravated murder, among other crimes, for three of the murders. In the days leading up to his execution he confessed to an additional kidnapping and murder in 1984, that of a ten-year-old boy.

In all, 58 murderers preceded Douglas Franklin Wright into Oregon's history books, the most recent being in 1962, almost exactly 34 years later. 

1864 – 1964

Initially, the Oregon Constitution contained no provision for the death penalty. The death penalty for first degree murder was adopted by statute in 1864.

Between 1864 and 1903, authority to carry out executions was vested in the county sheriffs. In 1903, the Oregon Legislature, to restrict public attendance at executions, amended the law to require executions be carried out at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem.

On Jan. 29, 1904, H.D. Egbert became the first man to be hanged at the Oregon State Penitentiary under the law. Egbert was a white, 26-year-old male Teamster, originally from Iowa, convicted of murder in Harney County.

Between 1904 and 1914, 24 men were hanged at the penitentiary. On Dec. 13, 1912, four men were executed on the same day, the most at one time at the penitentiary. There have been seven executions of two people on the same day, including two brothers, George and Charles Humphery, ages 52 and 39 respectively, executed on March 22, 1913.

In 1914, Oregon voters, by constitutional amendment, repealed the death penalty with just 50.04 percent of the vote. That amendment became Article I, 36 of the Oregon Constitution.

In 1920, voters restored the death penalty by repealing Article I, 36 and approving Article I, 37-38, with 56 percent of the vote.

On Nov. 5, 1920, Emmet Bancroft became the first to be hanged since re-enactment of the death penalty. Bancroft, a white, 25-year-old farmer from Missouri, was convicted of murdering the Umatilla sheriff during a jail break. Bancroft's two accomplices were both executed on July 7, 1922.

Fifteen hangings followed Bancroft's, the last being James E. Kingsley on Oct. 30, 1931. Kingsley was a white, 24-year-old laborer from Washington, convicted of murdering a police officer in Jackson County.

During that time, two death-row inmates committed suicide. Also executed during that time was L.W. Peare, convicted of murdering his wife and another man during a moonshine drinking spree, and who, at age 67, became the oldest man ever executed in Oregon.

After the Kingsley execution, the state stopped using the gallows and began using lethal gas. The first man to be executed in the gas chamber was LeRoy Hershel McCarthy, a white 27-year-old laborer, convicted of murdering a hold-up victim in Multnomah County.

Seventeen gas-chamber executions followed, including John Anthony Soto, convicted of murdering two men and one woman in Umatilla County, and who at age 17 became the youngest person ever executed in Oregon.

On August 20, 1962 the last execution in Oregon took place. Leeroy Sanford McGahuey, a 40-year-old logger, was convicted of brutally murdering a 32-year-old woman and her two-year-old son.

On Nov. 3, 1964, Oregon voters repealed the death penalty by 60 percent of the vote. On Nov. 5, 1964, Governor Mark O. Hatfield (R) commuted the death sentences of three people, including the only woman ever to be sentenced to death in Oregon. Jeannace Freeman, a 20-year-old white waitress was convicted of murdering her female lover's young son by throwing him off the bridge in Jefferson County.

1978 - 1996

The repeal remained in effect until 1978, when Oregon voters approved Ballot Measure 8, re-instituting capital punishment by lethal gas. Unlike prior death penalty laws, Measure 8 did not amend the Oregon Constitution, but rather was incorporated into the Oregon Revised Statutes, amending ORS 163.115 and creating ORS 163.116. Measure 8 won 64 percent of the vote.

Under the death penalty statute, the sentence was determined by the trial judge, without a jury. In 1981, the Oregon Supreme Court struck down the death penalty statute because it deprived the defendant of his right to trial by jury.

In 1984, Oregon voters approved Ballot Measure 6 which created Article I, 40 and exempted capital punishment from Article I, 15-16 of the Oregon Constitution. The measure passed with 55 percent of the vote.

Ballot Measure 7, in 1984, amended ORS 163.150 to require that, following a conviction for aggravated murder, a defendant be given a separate sentencing hearing before the trial jury. The measure passed with 75 percent of the vote.

Aggravated murder is defined by ORS 163.095. In general, murder becomes aggravated murder if it was a murder for hire, there was more than one victim, torture was involved, the victim was a criminal justice professional, a juror or a witness, the defendant was in custody or a fugitive when the murder occurred, the defendant previously committed murder or manslaughter, the murder occurred during another felony act, the murder was committed to conceal a crime, or the murder was committed using explosives.

At the sentencing hearing, the jury would determine whether: 1. The murder was deliberate; 2. Whether the defendant posed a continuing threat to society; and 3. Whether the defendant's acts were unreasonable in response to any provocation by the deceased.

Sentencing options available to juries for aggravated murder under ORS 163.105 are 1. Death; 2. Life without the possibility of parole ("true life"); and 3. Life imprisonment with a 30-year minimum.

Resentencing Under Penry

In 1988, the United States Supreme Court reversed a Texas death penalty sentence as violating the Eighth Amendment (Penry v. Lynaugh). The decision's impact on the Oregon law was significant because that law was based upon the Texas law.

"...in capital cases the fundamental respect for humanity underlying the Eighth Amendment ... requires consideration of the character and record of the individual offender and the circumstances of the particular offense as a constitutionally indispensable part of the process of inflicting the penalty of death."

A fourth question concerning mitigating evidence was added by the 1989 Legislature following the Supreme Court decision. The court suggested the mitigation question might be worded as follows: "Should defendant receive a death sentence, you should answer this question 'no' if you find that there is any aspect of defendant's character or background, or any circumstances of the offense, that you believe would justify a sentence less than death."

Following Penry, 17 Oregon cases were remanded for resentencing only. Of those, five received life with a 30-year minimum, four received Life without possibility of release or parole (True Life) and eight were resentenced to death.

In all, between 1904 and 1994, 115 people have been sentenced to death in Oregon, and 58 of those have been executed. The rest have had their sentences reduced, dismissed, commuted, or have died in prison. Of the 58, 55 were white and three black. Their ages ranged from age 17 to 67.

The Appeals Process

Following a sentence of death, the sentence is automatically appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court. From there, the defendant may appeal to the US Supreme Court, but the appeal is at the discretion of the court and may not be heard.

Post-conviction appeals are then taken to circuit court in which the defendant was sentenced, the Oregon Court of Appeals, the Oregon Supreme Court, and the US Supreme Court, in that order.

After that line of appeals has been followed, the defendant may appeal in Federal District Court, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and the US Supreme Court, in that order. There may also be state and federal stays that require further litigation.

Between 1984 and 1990, the Oregon Department of Justice litigated 24 death penalty cases, using 14,368.4 hours at a cost of $794,004.80.

Executions Since 1984

Douglas Franklin Wright´s execution was Oregon´s first execution in 34 years. It cost Oregon taxpayers nearly $200,000. Although Wright chose not to pursue any of the legal appeals available to him, approximately $90,000 was expended on legal fees to fend off third-party law suits, and $85,000 for staff overtime for training and security duties. The average cost-per-day to incarcerate an inmate in Oregon in 1996 was $53.73.

Harry Charles Moore was the second inmate to be executed in recent times. He, too, chose not to pursue his appeals. Moore died at 12:23 a.m. on May 16, 1997.

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