A bill to narrow one of the only crimes in Oregon still punishable by death will likely be amended to allow the death penalty in cases when a police officer is killed.
Senate Bill 1013, which The Advocate reported on in May, redefines some of the crimes considered “aggravated murder” as first-degree murder charges, punishable by life in prison rather than death.
Lawmakers cannot simply overturn the death penalty by statute, as it is written into the Oregon constitution, so instead sought to “de-fang” the law and narrow the number of cases which are eligible for capital punishment.
SB 1013 would restrict aggravated murder to incidents in which two or more people are killed “to intimidate a civilian population or influence a government,” premeditated murder of children (under the age of 14), or killing another inmate while in prison for murder. This change would not be retroactive for those currently on death row.
The new amendment would add the killing of police officers to the list of crimes which qualify as “aggravated murder,” which are eligible for the death penalty.
Democrats like Rep. Jennifer Williamson (D-Portland) acknowledged their acceptance of the amendment came after a public hearing in the House, when they heard testimony from the families of Rick Best, one of the men killed during the 2017 MAX Train stabbing, and the family of Thomas Tennet, a Woodburn police captain who was killed during a bank robbery in 2008.
The Senate’s passage of this bill is one reason a Portland court recently delayed the trial of Jeremy Christian, the man accused of killing two people, including Best, and hospitalizing a third. Best’s father argued that removing the option of the death penalty was equivalent to removing “the ability of the jury to enforce justice.”
By Ian MacRonald