An op-ed in Oregon’s Albany Democrat Herald called on the state to re-think its reliance on the death penalty:

20 years after voters in Oregon reinstated the death penalty, it is time to take a dispassionate look and conclude that it hasn’t done much good.

In the general election of 1984, Oregon voters overwhelmingly called for the death penalty to be resumed. 2 initiatives were on the ballot that year. One, calling for capital punishment or mandatory life sentences for aggravated murder, passed by 893,818 to 296,988. A companion measure, exempting the death penalty from the provision in the state constitution against cruel and vindictive punishment, passed by 653,009 to 521,687.

One of the main arguments was that once killers were executed, we could be sure that they would never do any more harm.

The justification - prevention of additional killings - has not worked out in practice. For one thing, the death penalty does not apply to ordinary 1st-time murder convictions. For another, the judicial system has failed to live up to the intention expressed by the voters. For countless legal and procedural reasons, the system has so far failed to carry out the mandate of 1984. And the pace of murders in Oregon has been roughly the same since the 1970s - 100 or more a year.

The rate per 100,000 has declined as the population increased, perhaps because of Measure 11, which put people in prison for violent crimes well short of murder, rather than letting them off on probation.

There have been 2 executions since the death penalty went back on the books. In both cases, the condemned men refused to participate in appeals; they wanted to be executed. The system works when murderers want the state to help them end their incarceration. It does not work when the criminals refuse to consent to be put to death, which is most of the time.

29 men were on Oregon’s death row as of last spring, some for as long as 16 years. One of those who had been there the longest, since 1988, had just had his conviction overturned for the third time, and his case was sent back to the trial court for another penalty phase.

Death penalty cases are more expensive and take longer than other murder cases. Typically the defendant gets 2 expert attorneys appointed for him rather than 1. And there are 2 trials in each case, one to determine guilt, the other to set the penalty.

Summing up: Executions have been all but non-existent. Even so, death penalty cases cost more. The existence of the penalty has not deterred murders. Lifelong prison terms have the same result as executions in keeping the public safe.

It’s not that repeat murderers don’t deserve the death penalty. They do. But the existence of the penalty in Oregon is not doing anything except to cause expense and delays. It’s time to let it go.

We don’t even need a constitutional change, which is unlikely anyway. All we need is prosecutors making up their mind to seek true-life sentences instead.

(Hasso Hering, Albany Democrat-Herald, August 29, 2004) (emphasis added). See Costs, Deterrence, and Life Without Parole. See also, Editorials.