Dayton Rogers Sentenced to Death

Oregonians to pay millions more for an execution date that will never arrive
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By Frank Thompson
Retired Superintendent, Oregon State Penitentiary

Allow me to make a well-informed prediction: the imposition of a new death sentence on Dayton Rogers by jurors in Clackamas County this week will prove to be nothing but an expensive charade. Despite this sentence, Rogers will very likely never be executed. Indeed, the state of Oregon has not executed anyone for nearly twenty years. I should know, I was the prison superintendent who supervised the last two executions to take place in our state, in 1996 and 1997. I understand the cost, both human and financial, of the death penalty and why that is not a price worth paying by Oregonians.

Dayton Rogers' guilt is not in doubt. Nor is the enormity of his crimes. Nor the fact that Oregonians have already spent millions of dollars on a case that is over a quarter of a century old and will now pay millions more for an execution date that will never arrive. That money, which could have been spent on crime prevention initiatives that will actually make our communities safer, will instead be used to fund a lengthy appeals process which is unlikely to conclude before Dayton Rogers dies of natural causes in prison. He is already 62 years old and may have 30 years of appeals ahead of him. This is the exact same outcome that would have been achieved by a sentence of life without parole, but with massive additional cost.

What this new death sentence also guarantees is that Kelli Cervantes, whose mother, Nondace Kae Cervantes, was killed by Rogers and who the Oregonian has reported wants to meet with him in order to obtain answers to her urgent questions, will never get those answers. Prison policy will not allow a defendant and a victim's family member to meet until all legal proceedings are over. If he had been sentenced to true life, Rogers was ready to waive all possible future legal proceedings, putting an end to the money spent on his case and allowing Kelli Cervantes the encounter that may bring her some solace.

As it is, Kelli Cervantes and all the other family and friends of the victims as well as anyone participating in future court hearings about Rogers' crimes will undergo further trauma. Each step in the appeals process will bring fresh publicity and turn the media spotlight once again onto Dayton Rogers. How can anyone involved have an opportunity to heal while they experience the uncertainty and dread of waiting for the next twist in the tale?

Dayton Rogers's case is "Exhibit A" for a broken system that is draining cash from our state's funds in pursuit of an illusion that the death penalty is doing anything to keep Oregonians safe. Far better that we cease our "tinkering with the machinery of death" and resolve in future to choose the sentencing option – life without the possibility of parole – that will protect our communities from harm while avoiding financial waste and further human suffering.

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Frank Thompson is a 32-year veteran of the military, law enforcement, and corrections. He came to Oregon in 1994 to serve as Superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary and was the supervisor of the only two executions to take place in this state in the past 50 years.

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