Linn DA appeals clemency ruling

Linn County District Attorney Doug Marteeny, his Lane County counterpart, Patty Perlow, and several crime victims are appealing to the Oregon Supreme Court after the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled earlier this month that Gov. Kate Brown was within her authority to grant clemency during the coronavirus pandemic to nearly 1,000 people convicted of crimes.

The attorneys took particular issue with Brown’s decision to allow 73 people convicted of murder, assault, rape and manslaughter while they were younger than 18 to apply for early release.

Marteeny, Perlow and the families sued in Marion County Circuit Court Jan. 18 to stop the clemency actions.

The lawsuit accused Brown of “systematically” violating “constitutional and statutory clemency process” in nearly 1,000 cases in which convicted felons have been released early from prison sentences.

“Many of these individuals were convicted of very serious crimes,” Attorney Kevin Mannix said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.

“Gov. Brown is now proposing to release approximately an additional 250 more felons early. All of them were convicted of violent crimes committed as juveniles and sentenced appropriately. These currently processing commutations are also in violation of the law.”

Marion County Circuit Court Judge David Leith rejected most of their arguments, but ordered the parole board to halt all release hearings for the 73 juvenile offenders. The governor then appealed the ruling.

The Court of Appeals acknowledged in its decision that crime victims felt they were “denied justice” and acknowledged that clemency, the power to pardon, “has always been controversial.”

The Appeals Court judges said they were “not called here to judge the wisdom of the Governor’s clemency … that is a political question.”

They said that they found that the issue they could decide, whether the governor could legally take the action she did, was legally sound.

The four private individuals named as plaintiffs in the original lawsuit are all survivors of victims of violent crimes in which suspects were convicted.

One is the surviving son of Donna Irene Tennant, whose case is cited in the lawsuit.

Tennant was murdered by her 17-year-old grandson, Andrew Johnson, who stabbed his grandmother to death with a kitchen knife, in her bed. According to the lawsuite, Johnson had imagined the ‘thrill’ of killing someone for some time.

“He stabbed his grandmother over 10 times in the neck and head, while she screamed, until she died.

Johnson then washed his hands and went back to bed.

“When he awoke, he got high and then went shopping with the $2,000 he stole from his grandmother.

Johnson, whose sentence was commuted by the governor, had served seven years of a minimum 25-year life sentence, according to the suit.

Another of the petitioners is the surviving father of Jessica Williams, a developmentally disabled black teenager who was stabbed to death under Portland’s Steel Bridge by three teenagers who then mutilated Jessica’s body and set Jessica’s body on fire.

Carl Richard Alsup, who is white, killed Jessica Williams approximately one week before he turned 18 years old.

He was convicted of aggravated murder for her premeditated death and has served approximately 16 years of a minimum 25-year life sentence. His sentence has been commuted as well, according to the suit.

Marteeny said the Americans are “ruled by laws and not by the whims of people and personalities.”

“I respectfully believe the governor is not following law and therefore, I am petitioning the judicial branch to require the governor to follow the law,” he said. “The governor may disagree with my position on this.

“However, that is what lawsuits are for. This lawsuit is not personal on my part. The governor and I simply disagree on the extent of her powers. I believe our laws put limits on her actions. I am working to enforce those limits.”