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Oregon's Death Row

Pete Springer/OPB

A jury unanimously found that Ricardo Serrano should be put to death for murdering Melody Dang and her two sons. Washington County Circuit Court Judge Steven Price will formally sentence Serrano on Tuesday. Serrano is poised to become the 33rd man on Oregon’s death row. If history is any guide, he’ll be likely to stay there for a while.

The modern age of Oregon’s death penalty began in 1984, when capital punishment was reinstated, but there have only been two executions since then. Douglas Franklin Wright was executed in 1996 for killing three homeless men in Central Oregon. Charles Moore was executed a year later for murdering his half-sister and her ex-husband. Both of these executions were, in a sense, voluntary: the convicted men gave up their appeals.

For men on death row (pdf) — and right now they’re all men — who do appeal, the process is very different. Appeals, at multiple levels of state and federal courts, can take decades.

What is life like in a place defined by death? What is it like to be sentenced to death, but to have your final hour stuck in legal limbo?

And what is it like to work on death row — as a guard, or a chaplain, or a lawyer?


  • Jeff Premo: Superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary
  • Rachel Hardesty: Core faculty in Portland State University’s conflict resolution program
  • Michael Finkel: Author of True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa
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