It's just really tragic that after all the horrors of the last 1,000 years, we can't leave behind something as primitive as government sponsored execution.
Thursday, 23 June 2016 Former Gov. Kitzhaber, who imposed 2011 halt, is among the audience.
The Rev. Jack Sullivan Jr. carried his message against the death penalty to like-minded abolitionists in Oregon.
“There is nothing personally redemptive or socially transformative about the death penalty,” Sullivan said Wednesday (June 22) at the annual banquet of Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
“It calls for its adherents to be so consumed by their dark night of vengeance until they cannot embrace the bright dawn of hope that illuminates a path toward healing and reconciliation.
“This is why it is important for people who have lost loved ones to murder, and supported by allies and friends, to poignantly tell and retell our stories and speak our truths — even with tears in our eyes and shaking knees — about why we enthusiastically oppose the death penalty.”
The banquet attracted more than 100, including former Gov. John Kitzhaber, to Madeleine Parish Hall in Portland.
Sullivan is executive director of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation — and he is more than just its top official. His younger sister, Jennifer, was murdered in 1997.
Before his current position, Sullivan has been a religious leader, including executive minister of Northwest churches in the Christian Church Disciples of Christ denomination.
About 3,000 inmates in the United States — 33 men and one woman in Oregon, according to the Department of Corrections — are on death row.
“We agree that murder is immoral and wrong,” Sullivan said. “Yet there are many among us, particularly in 31 states and the federal government, who argue that the best and most appropriate way for us to proclaim how horrible murder really is is to kill those convicted of murder.”
The eventual aim of Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty is to persuade Oregon voters to repeal the state’s death penalty, which voters reinstated by a constitutional amendment in 1984. Since the state assumed responsibility for executions in 1903, voters have gone back and forth on the issue.
Although the tone of his talk was largely somber, Sullivan quoted from Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” to make a point about what political candidates say: “People say believe half of what you see, and none of what you hear.”
In a reference to Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Sullivan said:
“Some political camps at this very moment are vowing to take back this country — and who knows who stole it? — and make America great again by leading us through always rocky and unstable terrain of racial profiling, ethnic scapegoating, and religious bigotry. To many, these are green, beautiful, even huge ideas.
“However, if you are an observer in possession of a green thumb, you know they are just weeds rooted in confined creativity and old, tired, moldy and leftover thinking.”
Sullivan was introduced by Becky O’Neil McBrayer, who is active in the national and state organizations, and whose mother and stepfather died in 2006 at the hands of her 25-year-old brother, Joseph O’Neil. O’Neil, who McBrayer said was mentally ill, was sentenced in 2007 to life without parole as the result of a plea agreement and is housed at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem.
McBrayer, now program director at Saint Andre Bessette Catholic Church in downtown Portland, told her full story at the 2015 meeting of Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
“Reconciliation means that you cannot undo murder,” she said. “But you can decide how you want to live afterward.”
A surprise guest at the banquet was former Gov. John Kitzhaber, who has made few public appearances since he resigned under pressure in February 2015 amid a still-unfinished ethics investigation.
Kitzhaber received two standing ovations for his 2011 moratorium on executions in Oregon — a moratorium that continues under Gov. Kate Brown — although he let two executions proceed during his earlier tenure in 1996 and 1997. (Similar actions have been taken by governors in Washington and Colorado.)
“You have stopped the machinery of death in Oregon and we are grateful to you,” said Emily Plec, a communications studies professor at Western Oregon University, a member of the advisory council to the state group, and the mistress of ceremonies. “Now it is time for us to finish the job.”
Kitzhaber did not speak, and OADP Board Chairman Ron Steiner said he did not know in advance that the former governor would attend.
Sen. Chip Shields, D-Portland, a longtime foe of Oregon’s death penalty and the 2016 recipient of OADP’s Sister Helen Prejean Award, said he asked Kitzhaber to attend.
“I have never had to confront this issue like the governor has,”
Shields said in reference to Kitzhaber’s 2011 decision to grant a temporary reprieve to Gary Haugen, who was scheduled to die two weeks later if Kitzhaber had not acted. “When I called him, he did not hesitate. He wanted to come here and do what he could to further the cause (of abolition).”