The Death Penalty in Oregon Takes a Sharp Downward Turn in 2012

Kitzhaber declared a moratorium on executions in Oregon

Dec. 20, 2012

Oregon’s death row is shrinking. Since Governor Kitzhaber declared his moratorium on executions, no new death sentences have been imposed and five death sentences have been overturned.

On November 22, 2011, Governor John Kitzhaber declared a moratorium on executions in Oregon. In the 13 months following the moratorium not a single new death sentence was imposed by an Oregon jury. No capital trials are scheduled for the remainder of 2012, so we will end the year without a single new death sentence. In fact, it has now been over 18 months since any Oregon jury imposed a death sentence. While the politicians may soon begin to debate whether to let the people vote on replacing the death penalty, Oregon prosecutors and juries have told us that, in every day practice, life without the possibility of release is an acceptable result even for the so-called “worst crimes.”

During the 13 months since the moratorium, five death sentences have been overturned. Oregon courts overturned the death sentences for Robert Langley, Dayton Rogers, Jeffrey Sparks, Jesse Fanus, and Travis Gibson. In each case, the court found that the death sentence was the product of an unconstitutional trial that resulted in an unfair and unreliable result. For example, the late Judge Timothy P. Alexander overturned Travis Gipson’s death sentence after finding the failure of Gibson’s original attorney failed “to demonstrate a true understanding of how to defend his client” at his trial.

When he announced the moratorium, Governor John Kitzhaber stated: it was time for Oregon to consider a different approach. “Juries, prosecutors, and judges have responded to Governor Kitzhaber’s call for reconsideration by repeatedly reaffirming that the death penalty system is broken. They have also told us that a life without parole sentence is a preferable alternative,” said Jeffrey Ellis, Director of the Oregon Capital Resource Center. “Oregon’s death penalty has never worked. Instead, when death sentences are imposed, we spend millions of dollars and wait decades for cases to eventually be resolved to life sentences. On the other hand, when life sentences are imposed, the cases quickly conclude. In response, the use of the death penalty in this state has fallen dramatically,” Ellis added. “Oregonians are practical people. We’d rather spend thousands on a life sentence, than millions on a death sentence that will become a life sentence many years later,” he concluded.

For more information contact: Jeffrey Ellis at 503-222-9830 or

Jeffrey Ellis
Executive Director
Oregon Capital Resource Center



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