In June, the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 1013 that narrowed the definition of aggravated murder and drastically reduced the number of murderers in this state who are eligible for the death penalty.

While reasonable minds can differ on the question of capital punishment, we should all agree that our laws need to be clearly written and not cause harm to victims of crime.

Even though the proponents of the bill made assurances that it would not be retroactive, some now admit they always intended for the new law to be retroactive.

A judge in Washington County ruled in August that the new law is retroactive and applies to a pending 1998 case where the defendant was convicted of aggravated murder, received the death penalty and subsequently was granted post-conviction relief. Martin Allen Johnson was convicted of raping and killing a 15-year-old Tigard girl and dumping her body off the Astoria Bridge.

The Oregon Department of Justice said last month that they would not appeal the judge’s ruling.

Now Gov. Kate Brown refuses to call a special session to fix the defective death penalty bill even though the bill doesn’t take effect until Sept. 29.

The poor victim’s family, thinking that the case was finished and the defendant was on death row, now has to face the prospect of a new trial. The trial court has already ruled that the defendant can’t receive the death penalty because the facts don’t fit the new death penalty statute.

To force victims to relive tragedies and come away with even less justice for their loved one that they reasonably believed already was done is a fate I would not wish upon anyone.

Regardless of where you stand on the death penalty, we all want certainty when it comes to some of our most important laws. I feel betrayed as a voter because I voted for the death penalty back in the 1970s and again in the 1980s and 1990s as a majority of Oregonians have done.

Due to the end run by the Legislature and the refusal by the governor to call a special session, I feel cheated out of my vote. You may, too, regardless of your personal views on the death penalty.

The fix is fairly easy. The cost to the state wouldn’t be nearly as much as the cost to all of the crime victims’ families who will potentially be revictimized by the callous way in which our death penalty was gutted and made retroactive, apparently by design.

There’s still a few days left and maybe Gov. Brown and the Legislature can still fix this mess. Please sound off about this unfair situation. Without a fix, justice will be denied to many victims in our state. Our local legislators should be congratulated for voting “no” on this bill.

This type of end run of democracy should not be tolerated.

Ron Brown is the Clatsop County district attorney.

(1) comment

Elizabeth Fraser

I agree, this is very unsettling for our family. We now have to go through this trial for a second time, knowing that the sentence is going to be less no matter what if he gets convicted. We feel absolutely powerless.

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