For the last 27 years, Mary Elledge has led the Portland-area chapter of the nonprofit group Parents of Murdered Children. It’s a nonpolitical group that doesn’t take a position on the death penalty, so when she spoke to Think Out Loud host Dave Miller about her personal view on capital punishment, she represented just that: her personal view.
Elledge’s son Rob was murdered 30 years ago. Three men were convicted of the crime — one for planning, overseeing and paying for the murder; the other two for actually carrying it out.
The man behind the plot, Tony Wick, pretended to be Rob’s friend, but plotted his death over what Elledge says was a dispute around some items Rob had for sale — items valued, she estimates, around $10,000.
Elledge says the case would never have been solved if it weren’t for one of two men who carried out the murder confessing to everything. He detailed the crime and led the police to the body and other evidence. Elledge says that if he hadn’t had the threat of the death penalty hanging over him, there’s no way he would have talked.
For Elledge, the fact that none of the three men actually received the death penalty was far less important than the fact that the crime was solved and those responsible held to account. The mastermind behind the murder is still serving time but may be released in a few years.
“If right now, if they said they would execute any one of these three men I would say, don’t waste your time,” Elledge told Think Out Loud host Dave Miller, “Let them live out their life. The problem is, I don’t want them to be a danger to anyone.”
"Think Out Loud" conversations about capital punishment in Oregon
Elledge doesn’t believe that any of them — even Wick, the mastermind — would do anything like that again. Still, she says, the death penalty must remain part of Oregon law because “it’s a fantastic bargaining tool” — a tool that, in her mind, solved her son’s brutal and inexplicable murder.
But Elledge also says capital punishment should absolutely be used sometimes. She believes without question that men like Dayton Rogers, a convicted serial killer who tortured women for hours before murdering them, should be executed.
Elledge says it’s important to tell her story — an important part of which is that time has not lessened her loss.
“It’s been 30 years for me,” she said. “So you learn to put it in a special place where you can talk about it without crying anymore. Of course, it takes years to do that. And there’s times when it will creep up on you and for no reason, all of a sudden you’re devastated again.”
Elledge says one of the things she agrees with death penalty opponents about is that the death penalty cannot bring closure or resolution to victims — because there’s no such thing as resolution.
“It was done out of meanness and ugliness, and the person doesn’t have a nice death when they’re murdered. … I never got to see my son or say goodbye to him.”
One of the reasons Elledge has been with the group Parents of Murdered Children for so long is that it’s vital for families to have space to help them get through the experience.
“Murder can’t be resolved, and you learn to live with it and get to a new normal. And I think by having good friends, I could tell my story. That’s the most important thing for co-victims of homicide, is to be able to tell their story.”