Oregon legislators introduced a bill that could get rid of almost all uses of the death penalty.
House Bill 3268, sponsored by Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D), would redefine “aggravated murder” under state law. Criminal acts that fall under that definition can put convicts on death row.
As the law currently stands, aggravated murder includes killing cops on duty, killing someone while also committing robbery or rape, and killing a child under the age of 12. But the new bill, if passed, would limit capital punishment to crimes where a person kills two or more people in an act of terrorism.
"As used in ORS 163.105 and this section," the bill reads. "'aggravated murder' means [murder as defined in ORS 163.115 which] criminal homicide of two or more persons that is premeditated and committed intentionally [under, or accompanied by, any of the following circumstances] and with the intent to: (1) Intimidate, injure or coerce a civilian population; (2) Influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (3) Affect the conduct of a government through destruction of property, murder, kid-napping or aircraft piracy."
Opposers of the death penalty argue that people who serve life sentences commit similar crimes as those who are sentenced to death. Studies say that 61 death sentences in Oregon cost taxpayers an average of $2.3 million. Between the years 1904 and 1994, 115 people were sentenced to death, with 58 executed.
“I think generally people support doing away with the death penalty,” Greenlick said. “I know it’s problematically applied and it’s extraordinarily expensive.”
Not everyone supports the bill. Mary Elledge of Oregon City lost her son, Rob, in 1986. Three people, including a man named Tony Wick, plotted his murder. Wick pretended to be a friend of Rob’s after they argued over some items Rob had for sale. They were valued at $10,000.
“It’s been 30 years for me,” she said two years ago to Dave Miller, host of the show Think Out Loud. “So you learn to put it in a special place where you can talk about it without crying anymore. Of course, it takes years to do that. And there’s times when it will creep up on you and for no reason, all of a sudden you’re devastated again.”
There are 30 people in Oregon currently on death row, but it's been 22 years since the state has executed anyone. Despite this, Elledge said that if it wasn’t for the threat of the death penalty, one of the men who carried out Rob’s murder wouldn’t have confessed to the crime, and the other men wouldn’t have been caught.
“If right now, if they said they would execute any one of these three men I would say, don’t waste your time,” Elledge said. “Let them live out their life. The problem is, I don’t want them to be a danger to anyone.”
Today Elledge helps lead the organization, Parents of Murdered Children, which doesn’t take a position on the death penalty. Regardless, she believes that the punishment holds an important place in criminal justice.
“The death penalty is a great bargaining tool,” she said.