Death Penalty

Botched Execution in Oklahoma – Could Have Happened in Oregon

By Becky Straus, Legislative Director

In what witnesses and media outlets have reported as painfully botched, the failed execution in Oklahoma this week serves as a chilling reminder of the broken machinery of the death penalty in the United States. What happened in Oklahoma this week had the potential to happen in Oregon, were it not for Governor Kitzhaber’s decision in November of 2011 that no death sentence would be carried out in Oregon on his watch.

That’s because Oregon’s laws and regulations allow for a similar “three-drug cocktail” to the one that brought such gruesome results in Oklahoma. And Oregon’s guidelines raise the same kinds of unanswered questions around what specific lethal substances will be injected into the human being to be executed, where the drugs are coming from, if they’ve been tested, and the medical credentials of the person who administers the drugs. Oregon’s vague laws provide no guidance for monitoring the effects on the individual as the drugs are administered, nor do they outline contingency plans should anything go wrong.

Unfortunately the situation in Oklahoma this week was just another in a long list of botched executions that continue to be tolerated in this country. 


Death Penalty - The Enduring Failure to Protect Against Racism

By Jeffrey Ellis, Director of the Oregon Capital Resource Center

Twenty five years ago this week in a case entitled McCleskey v. Kemp, the United States Supreme Court was faced with disturbing proof that race influences who is sentenced to death in the United States. In Georgia, where the case originated, black defendants charged with killing white victims were 4.3 times as likely to receive a death sentence as white defendants charged with killing black victims. This prompted Justice Brennan to write:

"At some point in this case, Warren McCleskey doubtless asked his lawyer whether a jury was likely to sentence him to die. A candid reply to this question would have been disturbing. First, counsel would have to tell McCleskey that few of the details of the crime or of McCleskey’s past criminal conduct were more important than the fact that his victim was white….In addition, frankness would compel the disclosure that it was more likely than not that the race of McCleskey’s victim would determine whether he received a death sentence…  Finally, the assessment would not be complete without the information that cases  involving black defendants and white victims are more likely to result in a death sentence than cases featuring any other racial combination of defendant and victim. The story could be told in a variety of ways, but McCleskey could not fail to grasp its essential narrative line: there was a significant chance that race would play a prominent role in determining if he lived or died."

Although our criminal justice system aspires to be color blind we are tethered to our unfortunate history of racism.