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An Opportunity For Justice: Gov. Kitzhaber should commute the sentences of death row prisoners before leaving office

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Oregon's four-term Governor John Kitzhaber has the power to do an urgently needed act of justice today: commute the death sentences of Oregon's 34 men and one woman before he leaves office. According to a poll done by the Oregonian, 73% of Oregonians would support such a commutation.

In a powerful op-ed posted today to the Huffington Post, Harvard Law professor Charles Ogletree makes the case for Governor Kitzhaber to commute the sentences, noting that throughout his tenure, Governor Kitzhaber has proven himself a leader on the issue of capital punishment. According to Professor Ogletree:

The people who occupy death row tend to be people who suffer from serious mental illness, intellectual impairments, torturous childhood abuse, and other extreme disadvantage. Often times these individuals do not receive adequate legal representation; and, in states across the nation, innocent men and women emerge from the ranks of the condemned.

Recognizing these shortcomings, Governor Kitzhaber declared a moratorium on the death penalty back in 2011. He labeled the State's practice of imposing death sentences "neither fair nor just" and concluded that a "compromised and inequitable" capital punishment system is not befitting of Oregon. Nothing has changed and nothing will: the death penalty in Oregon is too broken to fix.

As Professor Ogletree observes, commuting the death sentences of Oregon's death row prisoners before leaving office would uphold Governor's Kitzhaber's core values:

In his resignation letter, Governor Kitzhaber told us that he was proud to not have presided over any executions. Yet, as Governor, he presided over a state that has sentenced people to death under the same unjust system that led him to impose the moratorium.

Governor Kitzhaber should do right by his own values and the values of a majority of Oregonians. He should commute the death sentences of prisoners on his state's death row and send a clear message: Oregon's death penalty is too broken to fix.

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Jose Cornejo is a recent graduate from the University of Wisconsin.
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