Plea Deals Keep Serious Cases Off Oregon Death Row


Last March, an Oregon jury convicted Jesse Lee Johnson of aggravated murder for stabbing a woman to death in her apartment during a robbery, says The Oregonian in Portland. Last week, Ward Weaver pleaded guilty to killing two girls, and Morris admitted murdering his wife and three children. Johnson, a relatively obscure murderer, is the newest resident of Oregon’s death row while two of the most notorious killers in recent history got plea bargains that spared their lives. The disparate outcomes stem in large part from the fact that Johnson maintained his innocence while Weaver and Morris admitted their guilt. Capital punishment opponents say the cases demonstrate that Oregon’s death penalty system is arbitrary and unfair.

Supporters of capital punishment are unhappy that the system has been ineffective. Since voters reinstated the death penalty nearly 20 years ago, the state has executed two of the 51 men who have been sentenced to death. Those two are considered volunteers because they abandoned their appeals. More than half of the men sentenced to death have had their sentences reversed on appeal, several more than once. Of the 28 men who remain on death row, four were originally sentenced more than 16 years ago, yet none has an execution date. “I think anybody who supports the death penalty for people like Weaver, people like Morris — I think you should be frustrated and angry with government and the judiciary in this state for not carrying out the will of the people in a timely manner,” said Steve Doell, a crime victims advocate.


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