PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Local prosecutors have raised concerns over Gov. Kate Brown’s controversial order allowing people convicted of murder, rape and other violent crimes as teenagers to get parole hearings.
Brown is using her clemency authority to give some inmates a second chance. She’s extending a law passed two years ago that undid part of Measure 11’s mandatory sentencing laws for juveniles.
The Marion County district attorney said there are about 75 people across the state whose prison sentences the governor is retroactively changing. Thirty-four people will be eligible for parole hearings in the coming months.
One of those people is Carl Alsup — who was 17 when he killed a 22-year-old mentally disabled woman, Jessica Williams, in Portland in 2003. Alsup is now 36.
Norm Frink, who is now retired, served as Multnomah County’s chief deputy district attorney. He prosecuted Alsup 18 years ago.
“Alsup was the person most directly involved in the actual killing of stabbing her multiple times and burning her body,” Frink said. “And here’s Kate Brown rushing in without talking to anybody and fiddling and messing with this well-considered sentence that was deemed appropriate by everybody involved.”
John Wentworth, the Clackamas County district attorney, said that by doing this, Brown is going against the “express intent” of the state legislature to not make these crimes retroactive.
“She’s implementing a program without any notification to the crime victims who this most affects,” Wentworth said. “The crime victims had to learn about it through the press.”
Prosecutors expect her decision to be challenged in court.
KOIN 6 News reached out to Gov. Brown’s office for an interview Monday about the order but has not received a response.
Her office released a statement Oct. 22 about her decision:
Governor Brown believes that we must put more emphasis on preventing crime and rehabilitating youth than on harsh punishments and lengthy and costly prison sentences. We can no longer rely solely on imprisonment as the only solution. Youth should be held accountable for their actions, but the fact is that adolescent brains are still growing and developing, especially in skills such as reasoning, planning, and self-regulation. Yet, too often our criminal justice responses do not take this into account. In particular, Measure 11 removed many routes for young people to demonstrate their capacity for change and positive growth.
Fortunately, SB 1008 opened up a sensible pathway out of imprisonment for youth sentenced as adults. Recognizing that SB 1008 itself was not applied retroactively, the Governor intends to use her constitutional clemency powers to consider youth—on an individualized basis—who didn’t benefit from that legislation.
The Governor’s approach varies slightly for the two distinct groups being considered, but results in these youth getting a similar consideration as their peers—either through a review for potential conditional release or the opportunity for a parole hearing.
For the youth who DOC has determined meet the first set of criteria (was a juvenile at the time of committing the offense for which they are in custody; be serving a sentence that was ordered prior to January 1, 2020; not be serving a sentence for which any convictions are for crimes that were committed as an adult; and has served 50% of their sentence or will have served 50% of their sentence by December 31, 2022), the Governor’s Office will engage in an individualized review process to determine whether the youth has made exemplary progress and if there is considerable evidence of rehabilitation, as well as taking into account input from the DA and victims, if any. If the Governor determines that a commutation is warranted, the youth will be granted a conditional release. We anticipate that these reviews will occur throughout the next several months. The earliest the Governor would make any decisions on conditional releases would likely be in December or January, and the process will continue until a final decision has been made on each case.
For the youth who DOC has determined meet the second set of criteria (was a juvenile at the time of committing the offense; be serving a sentence that was ordered prior to January 1, 2020; be serving a sentence of fifteen years or more of imprisonment; not be serving a sentence for which any convictions are for crimes that were committed as an adult; and not be serving a sentence with a current projected release date in 2050 or later), the Governor granted a commutation this week that will allow these youth (74 total) the opportunity for a parole hearing, as described in ORS 144.397. The commutation will take effect in 45 days, which is the earliest possible date that the Parole Board could schedule a hearing. To be clear, the Governor is not making any decision to conditionally release these youth; that discretion lies with the Parole Board in these cases. Victims and their families will receive notifications in accordance with the standard victim notification procedures for commutations, and they will have an opportunity to participate in the hearing process.