May 2nd OADP Annual Meeting and Banquet

2013 OADP annual mmeting and banquet

A man convicted of aggravated murder shared the stage on May 2nd with a former Superintendent of Oregon’s maximum security prison, a former director of the Department of Corrections, an award-winning journalist and a former Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice. The event, sponsored by Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, drew an overflow crowd at Willamette University’s Putnam Center.

Besides their all being Oregonians, each of them now advocates the repeal of Oregon’s death penalty, a law that has profoundly touched them personally, one that has also eroded our economy, our due process of law and the foundations of our morality.

Scott Cannon spent 11 years in the Oregon State Prison until all charges and his sentence were vacated in 2010. Frank Thompson and Dave Cook oversaw the only two Oregon executions in the past 50 years, as Superintendent of OSP and Director of the Oregon Department of Corrections, respectively. Naseem Rakha was the Capitol reporter for Oregon Public Broadcasting and NPR during that time. It was she who introduced the evening’s speakers including recently retired Supreme Court Chief “Justice Paul De Muniz, who scorched the audience with a three-part indictment of Oregon’s death penalty.

“The death penalty is getting a “pass” from legislative scrutiny, when looking for ways to trim Oregon’s budget to fund starving schools and public safety”, stated the former Chief Justice. “We currently have fewer state police today than we did in 1960”, he added. Oregon has more than doubled its population, from 1.7 million to 3.8 million people since 1960.

De Muniz, who chaired the Governor’ Commission on Public Safety urged the audience to continue advocating for a thorough audit of death penalty economics as a prelude to a repeal vote. That vote should come no later than 2016.

Every death penalty case costs taxpayers millions of dollars more than non-death penalty murder cases. It is estimated that Oregon spends more than $28 million annually to maintain the death penalty system. This outrageous amount of money coupled with the fact that there has been only two executions in 50 years in the state, points out that it is “bad public policy”

Justice De Muniz also pointed out the inordinate burden that the death penalty puts on the justice system and the extraordinary length of time it takes for each convicted death row inmate to work though the appeals process. De Muniz spoke of having defended a murder suspect sentenced to death in 1988. In that interceding 25 years, the former Chief Justice has experienced a full career in law, from attorney, to judge, to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and now into retirement. The inmate is still on death row.

The third subject of his talk dealt with the large number of death penalty cases that have been overturned and returned to lower counts to start again either on the ‘sentencing portion’, the “guilt portion” or both. Records show that nearly half of all Oregon death penalty cases have been overturned. The length of the appeals process and the many cases that are overturned, based on errors and constitutionally inadequate defense, add greatly to the cost of the system.

The large and enthusiastic sell-out crowd gave Justice De Muinz, a standing ovation.

Preceding Justice De Muniz to the podium was Dave Cook, former Director of the Department of Corrections. His term included the 1996 and 1997 executionswhen both inmates gave up their rights of appeal and volunteered to end their lives. Cook, a former Benton County Sherriff, outlined his transition of from being in favor of capital punishment to a position of opposition. His reasons included the wasteful expense, the trauma upon those staff members who participate in actual executions and the fact that the alternative of “life without parole” doles out punishment and keeps the public safe. He stated “I think that taking away someone liberty is a more severe punishment than death would be”.

Another speaker at the event was Frank Thompson, who was Superintendent of the Oregon State Prison during the years 1996 and 1997. The 25-year veteran of law enforcement and corrections anguished over those responsibilities with great concern for his employees. Included in his remarks, Thompson stated “The fact that there have been 142 exonerations from death rows across the country, and many more like Scott Cannon here, for crimes they did not commit, suggests that we have also executed some innocent people in American. It is not only a ‘failed public policy’ it is immoral.”

In retirement, Mr. Thompson frequently speaks publicly against the death penalty and in favor of replacing it with life without parole. Recently he testified before the Maryland Joint Judicial Committee as they debated legislation to repeal their law. Thompson was able to announce to the assembled crowd that Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley just that day had signed the legislation making his state the sixth in the past six years to repeal their death penalty. The announcement was met with thunderous applause from the audience.

Mr. Thompson added, “How thoroughly rewarding that was, after a career in corrections and law enforcement, I now get to balance the scales a bit, helping to rid our states of a law that does not seem right to me.” He added,“next to my having married my wife Deborah 47 years ago, this effort is the most important thing to me in my life.”

In addition to OADP members, faith community representatives, many former Department of Correction employees, law school students and faculty and criminal attorneys in attendance was another retired Oregon Supreme Court Justice, Edwin Peterson. Peterson, who is on the faculty of Willamette School of Law, announced that he too would be speaking out publicly against the death penalty and in favor of a “blue ribbon panel” to study the costs associated with maintaining a system that costs many time over what a system of life without parole would cost taxpayers.

Another speaker during the evening was Scott Cannon, who was wrongfully convicted of aggravated murder, received a life sentence, served eleven years in the Oregon State Prison and then was released when his conviction and charges were vacated in 2010. Mr. Cannon’s comments pointed to the many mistakes that are made in murder cases and when death is on the table, a mistake could be fatal. Cannon’s wrongful conviction was based on false testimony and flawed forensic ballistic evidence, which the FBI and experts ruled out as “junk science”

Naseem Rakha, award-winning journalist and author of the best selling book The Crying Tree, was Mistress of Ceremonies. Minister Emerita Marilyn Sewell, of the First Unitarian Church in Portland gave the invocation and Willamette Chaplain Rev. Karen Wood offed a welcome on behalf of Willamette University.

Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (OADP) is a 501-C3 non-profit and can be found on the internet at www.oadp.org. For more information call (503) 990-7060

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