Guest Column by Joshua Marquis
April 10, 2019
The only testimony in the Oregon Senate Judiciary Committee last month in opposition to a bill that would functionally abolish capital punishment — was offered by the courageous and sensible district attorney of Lane County, Patty Perlow. She pointed out that voters had repeatedly said “yes” to the death penalty in Oregon, and if there was to be a massive change, the voters should make the call, not legislators.
Although I prosecuted Randy Guzek three times in Bend between 1990 and 2010, I am retired and no longer a part of Guzek’s prosecution. The current DA — John Hummel, has never tried a homicide case as a DA and excluded me from participating on behalf of the state of Oregon in the parole process involving Guzek’s co-killer, Mark Wilson. Guzek is the only person from Deschutes County on death row, sentenced for gunning down Rod and Lois Houser in Terrebonne in the summer of 1987.
Perhaps someone will ask exactly what Hummel is privately advocating for Guzek?
In four separate trials, 48 different Deschutes County jurors unanimously sent Guzek to death row in 1989, 1991, 1997, and 2010.
But now official position of the prosecution will not be that of the Houser family, who suffered the loss of their brother/father/mom/grandparent in 1987, but that of a politician who advocates for abolishing capital punishment.
The issue is one thing in the abstract, possible future, but very concrete for the too real double murder committed shortly after voters overwhelmingly approved the imposition of capital punishment in 1984. When Hummel testified at Wilson’s Parole Hearing three years ago, he stunned those in attendance by declining to even urge that the Parole Board order Wilson to honor his 1988 plea deal … to serve 40 years (another 8 years) before being eligible for parole in 2028. Wilson stays in prison, for now.
If deceptive and intellectually dishonest legislation offered this session by Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, passes, the multiple murder of a police officer or a serial killer, all would face only the newly created charge of “Murder in the Second Degree.” This act of legislative legerdemain is intended to bypass the constitutional requirement advocated by DA Perlow, referral to the voters, since voters passed capital punishment in a constitutional referendum. By claiming to “just limit” capital punishment by jurors, it effectively abolishes it … but not quite, without a full and public debate and without a decision by the state’s voters.
Guzek, and about five other death row inmates sentenced before 1991 cannot face “true life” sentences since such sentences did not exist when they were convicted, and would be eligible for immediate parole, although it would be by no means automatic. Under Oregon law if capital punishment is retroactively revoked, the maximum sentence is that sentence existing at the time the crime occurred. That could mean near immediate release of a man dozens of Deschutes County jurors decided after long deliberation, should die.
Oregon voters first abolished capital punishment in the early years of the 20th century, then a few years later reinstated it. The last time any state’s voters decided to abolish the death penalty was in Oregon in 1964. First in 1977, then in 1984 voters once again decided death should be a possible punishment in a very few of the worst murders. No state in America has voted out capital punishment since Oregon did 55 years ago.
States as diverse as Nebraska, Wisconsin, and California (twice just in the last 10 years) voted to reject abolition of capital punishment or (as in Wisconsin) to reinstate capital punishment.
Some issues are too important to be left to politicians.
Guest column: John Hummel and Oregon’s death penalty | Opinion | bendbulletin.com
JOSHUA MARQUIS on
criminal justice, animal welfare, and the nature of the relationship between popular culture and the law.
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