The jury room at the Multnomah County Courthouse in downtown Portland, photographed on Jan. 25, 2021.

The jury room at the Multnomah County Courthouse in downtown Portland, Ore. Multnomah County District Attorney was among roughly 100 officials from across the U.S. to sign on to a letter asking the Biden administration to end the federal death penalty.

Courtney Sherwood / OPB

A handful of veterans of Oregon’s and Washington’s criminal justice systems joined progressive prosecutors and law enforcement officials from across the U.S. in a call for the Biden administration to abolish the federal death penalty.

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The Trump administration restarted federal executions in July after a 17-year moratorium on the practice, and federal officials have since executed 13 inmates. The Justice Department moved quickly in the final days of Trump’s presidency, and carried out three executions in January.

Around 100 current and former law enforcement officials, including police chiefs, prosecutors, judges and federal officials, wrote to the Biden administration, calling this a “critical moment for action in our nation.”

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“We need definitive and lasting steps that go beyond a moratorium that future administrations can readily undo,” the officials wrote, calling the Trump administration’s use of executions an “assault on human dignity and an affront to American values.”

Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt, Wasco District Attorney Matthew Ellis and King County, Washington, Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg signed the letter.

They, along with former federal judges and current state attorneys general, asked the Biden administration to end all current death penalty warrants, commute the sentences of death row inmates, and dismantle the execution chamber in Terre Haute, Indiana.

“Many have tried for over forty years to make America’s death penalty system just. Yet the reality is that our nation’s use of this sanction cannot be repaired, and it should be ended,” the letter writers stated.

As part of his campaign platform, Biden said he would end the federal death penalty during his administration.

Oregon has had a moratorium on executions since 2011. That was put in place by former Gov. John Kitzhaber, and continued by Gov. Kate Brown. The death penalty in Washington state was effectively ended in 2018 when the state supreme court ruled it had historically been “imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner.”


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