Clinton Cunningham’s 235-page habeas corpus petition filed in U.S. District Court in Portland marks the first time an Oregon death row inmate has completed the state appeals process in the 21 years since voters reinstated the death penalty, says The Oregonian. The outcome may have enormous implications for the 29 men on Oregon’s death row. For the first time, federal courts will fully evaluate Oregon’s death penalty law, one of a handful of 38 state capital punishment statutes that has yet to receive such a scrubbing.
If the courts agree with Cunningham that the law is fundamentally flawed, Oregon may have to retry its death row inmates. That happened in 1989, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Oregon’s law did not provide a way for defendants to introduce evidence that would persuade a jury not to execute them. Since voters approved the death penalty in 1984, the state has executed two inmates, in 1996 and 1997, but only after they abandoned their appeals.