Here are some of 17 killers Democrat governor just spared from death row

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By Trevor Schakohl
Daily Caller News Foundation

Democratic Oregon Gov. Kate Brown commuted the execution sentences of her state’s 17 death-row inmates effective Wednesday, all of them convicted killers.

Brown reduced the inmates’ sentences to life in prison without the possibility of parole, saying she did so solely because capital punishment is universally “dysfunctional and immoral.” The convicts’ crimes include child murder, rape, robbery and a plot involving a bomb.

Jesse Caleb Compton persistently tortured his girlfriend’s toddler daughter in 1997, sexually abusing the child, breaking her back and tying her up for hours before she died after he struck her head repeatedly and stomped on her, according to court records. A jury convicted him of aggravated murder, murder by abuse, two counts of first degree sexual penetration and second-degree abuse of a corpse.

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Clinton Wendell Cunningham raped and murdered a 19-year-old female hitchhiker he and his friends had picked up in north of Coos Bay, Oregon, in 1991, court documents show. The victim was stabbed 37 times, according to an autopsy, and her body was discovered in a remote wooded area in Oregon six days before Cunningham’s arrest in Oklahoma.

A jury found Christian Michael Longo guilty on seven counts of first-degree murder, based on court records. He had strangled his wife and killed their three children in December 2001, fleeing the state before police captured him the next month while he was staying at a campground near Cancun, Mexico, where he had claimed to be a New York Times writer.

Bruce Aldon Turnidge and his son Joshua Abraham Turnidge had both received death sentences after convictions for ten counts of aggravated murder and related felonies in connection with the December 2008 bombing of a Woodburn, Oregon, bank, court records indicate. Two police officers perished when the bomb exploded, critically injuring a third and injuring a bank employee.

The state contended that Bruce Turnidge wanted to rob the bank to fund an anti-government militia and previously praised the 1995 Oklahoma City federal courthouse bombing, court records reported.

Brown’s capital punishment clemency order also included a Mexican national and Oregon’s only transgender death row prisoner.

In 1995, Horacio Alberto Reyes-Camarena fatally stabbed 18-year-old sister Maria Zetina and stabbed her sister Angelica Zetina, who ultimately testified at his trial, the Statesman Journal reported. He is a citizen of Mexico, court records show.

Tara Ellyssia Zyst, then Karl Anthony Terry, murdered two brothers with a samurai sword during a 1994 camping trip, based on court documents. In 2014, Zyst reported having identified as female since Zyst was a young teenager, according to The Hill opinion contributor Bianca Clark.

Oregon has not executed an inmate in more than a decade, with Gov. John Kitzhaber instituting a death penalty moratorium in 2011 and Brown continuing the policy when she took office in 2015. Brown signed a 2019 state law that significantly limits the allowed circumstances for imposing the death penalty, and the state corrections department has already moved all death row inmates to general prison population and demolished death row housing under her direction, she pointed out in her clemency order.

Gov. Kate Brown, D-Oregon

“I also recognize the pain and uncertainty victims experience as they wait for decades while individuals sit on death row — especially in states with moratoriums on executions — without resolution,” Brown said Tuesday. “My hope is that this commutation will bring us a significant step closer to finality in these cases.”

Multiple inmates whose death sentences Brown commuted had already been convicted criminals when they committed their capital crimes.

Michael Martin McDonnell was found guilty of theft, unauthorized vehicle use and perjury beginning a prison sentence in May 1984, according to the Oregon Department of Corrections. He escaped from prison that November and killed a woman with a knife the next month, based on court records and testimony.

McDonnell claimed at trial that he killed her under drug-induced psychosis and was guilty of manslaughter instead of murder, a court document said. A jury ultimately convicted him of aggravated murder.

Gary Dwayne Haugen was already serving a lifetime prison sentence for murder when he murdered another inmate in 2007, receiving a death sentence for that crime, according to court records. Prior to Haugen’s scheduled December 2011 execution date, Kitzhaber issued a reprieve disallowing it for the rest of his governorship.

Haugen legally protested the reprieve on Eighth Amendment grounds, labeling Kitzhaber’s action towards him a punishment in itself that prevented him from knowing when he would be executed, the court document reported. The Oregon Supreme Court rejected that challenge in 2013.

This story originally was published by the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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