A Better Judicial System Has Taken A Step Forward With The Brown Death Penalty Decision

Brown Death Penalty: With her recent statement that she will commute the execution sentences of the last 17 individuals on Oregon’s death row to life in prison, Governor Kate Brown took a significant step toward abolishing a justice system that causes more harm than good. When covering the final two executions in Oregon, in 1996 and 1997, respectively, I was initially exposed to the repercussions of the death penalty. Those convicts had withdrawn their appeals, claiming they preferred death to life in confinement. Since there were no ongoing appeals, the state went through with the “process.”

A Better Judicial System Has Taken A Step Forward With The Brown Death Penalty Decision

We were briefed at Oregon State Penitentiary, and I could see right away that the personnel there was on edge. Superintendent Frank Thompson back in those days warned us that nobody wanted to take on this responsibility. Still, he wanted to carry out his duties with as much honor as possible given the circumstances.

Years later, Thompson said that he had thought death punishment problematic throughout the time of the killings, acknowledging that it had shown to be discriminatory, had likely resulted in the execution of innocent individuals, and was enormously costly. In spite of this, Thompson believed it served a useful purpose. As a result of seeing executions in 1996 and 1997, he no longer held to that opinion.

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His remarks came during a discussion hosted by Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. Thompson, who had only recently retired, joined the group in order to get perspective on his life’s events. From the pulpit of the church, he made the following announcement: “After each execution, I had staff members who decided they did not want to be asked to serve in that role again.”

Others silently looked for new jobs. A few others mentioned they were having difficulties getting to sleep, and my first thought was that they could have developed post-traumatic stress disorder from the experience. I don’t think people have any idea what it takes to get good, trained people to kill someone for the cause of an unproven policy.

Brown Death Penalty Decision
Brown Death Penalty Decision

My own interviews with execution staff have corroborated Thompson’s claims. When recalling their event, even if it happened decades ago, many people become overcome with emotion. Some participants reported being tormented by their performance. Everyone involved in the execution processβ€”from the nurses who insert the intravenous needles to the tie-down teams, from the jurors and judges to the janitors who clean the death chamberβ€”describes their time there as a sort of stain they can’t get rid of.

What Do People Think Of Gov. Kate Brown’s Decision?

Some people who support the death penalty I’ve talked to don’t seem to care that execution witnesses suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after witnessing an execution. However, their indifference begins to crumble when they hear how capital punishment hurts the loved ones of murder victims.

It is often said that the death sentence helps victims’ families find closure. When the individual responsible for the death of a loved one is put to death, the mourning of that family will finally come to an end. As a result, the scales will be leveled and progress may be made. They are encouraged to take their “sweet revenge” with no regrets.

However, I have never once heard anything close to it being accurate in any of the interviews I’ve conducted. Instead, the decades-long struggle that follows a death sentence is devastating for the victim’s loved ones. Each appeal is like a dagger thrust into the heart of the problem. Each report and request for an interview serves as a reminder that justice has not yet been fully restored.

When the execution eventually takes place, the family of the deceased learns the horrible truth: that the promise of closure was a mirage, as frail as the tissue they clutched for as they witnessed the state murder their loved one. It turns out that vengeance is a hollow solace at best.

For this reason, I support Brown’s decision to change the execution sentences of 17 inmates on Oregon’s death row to life without parole. Yes, there are relatives of victims who feel that they’ve been forgotten about. It is my sincere wish, however, that they come to realize what so many families of murder victims have in circumstances where the death penalty was not pursued or was not a possibility: that healing is a lot more realistic option when one is not waiting for justice to be delivered to them on a gurney.

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A life sentence without the possibility of parole guarantees one thing: that justice will not be slowed down. The minute the criminal is brought from the courtroom, the rest of his or her life will be spent under the chains of guilt and remorse for the crime they committed. The verdict marks the beginning of a much-needed journey to healing, rather than the start of a long march with no conclusion.

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