Oregon governor Kate Brown came under fire for granting clemency to a convicted killer who was serving a life sentence without parole after being convicted of murdering a teenager. In 1994, Kyle Hedquist led the victim Nikki Thrasher down a faraway forested road before shooting her in the back of the head in fear that she might reveal his crimes to the police.
Now 45, Hedquist was convicted in Douglas County Circuit Court in 1995. Governor Brown explained that since Hedquist was 17 at the time of the crime committed it suggests that he should not be 'locked-up for life', the Spokesman Review reports. She said in a social media post: 'Teenagers, even those who have committed terrible crimes, have a unique capacity for growth and change. We are a state and a nation of second chances.'
Comparing President Joe Biden's granting of clemency to 78 people on Tuesday, all of whom were for nonviolent crimes, Brown defended her clemency for Hedquist on similar grounds. She has been accused to be soft on crimes by the displeased Republicans. Oregon Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp said Tuesday, "As with many others, the facts of this case are outrageous and brutal, the Governor continues to let violent criminals out of prison, and Democrats in the majority remain silent."
Even after all this, the Oregon governor continues stating that she has denied most clemency requests. She says, "Clemency is an action I reserve for individuals who have demonstrated that they have made incredible changes in their lives to rehabilitate themselves, take accountability for their crimes, and dedicate themselves to making their communities a better place."
Koin 6 News reports that, according to a 2012 ruling, the US Supreme Court stated that only the 'rare, irredeemable juvenile offender' will serve life in prison, but that only applied in federal cases. As per the Washington, D.C.-based Sentencing Project, at least two dozen states have banned sentencing juveniles to life without parole. The Democrat-dominated Oregon Legislature passed such a law in 2019, but the state Supreme Court has ruled 'it's not retroactive'.
According to a release from the Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson, Hedquist murdered Nikki to protect himself, he had stolen some items from his aunt and Nikki, who was clueless about the burglaries simply asked about them.
Clarkson explained, "when innocently inquired about them, he took that as a threat to him and to his ability to get away with the crime, he tricked her, drove her to a remote location, shot her in the back of the head execution-style and dumped her body on the side of the road."
The course of action taken by the accused is making Clarkson question Governor Brown's decision to grant clemency to Hedquist. What's even more distressing is that the victim's family was not informed even once that Hedquist's case was being considered, nor any effort was made to seek the family out to get their opinion.
Holly Thrasher, the mother of the 19-year-old victim, was enraged at Brown's decision and shocked of not being informed of Hedquist's release especially when the Oregon governor has repeatedly given statements of 'always' reaching out to victim's families so as to make sure that the 'victim can have a voice.'
She came to know about the release when Koin 6 News contacted her for her reaction, "he took the life of my daughter in cold blood. It was a cold-blooded murder. He planned it, I am upset. I wasn't even told." Further adding that she's extremely worried for her and her son's safety, now that her daughter's killer is free.
Clarkson stated that that notice came on 13th April when Hedquist was scheduled for the release and there was no time for Community Corrections to examine the address in south Salem given by the Governor's office. Marion County rejected the Governor's Office to release Hedquist to an address in their jurisdictions and so he had to be released to Salem, where a former prison chaplain resides.
Clarkson and Sheriff Joe Kast, whose county includes Salem, had then issued a public safety notice on Saturday wherein they expressed 'significant safety concerns surrounding the sudden and ill-planned governor's commutation.'
She said, "this particular release into this community just seemed inappropriate for Marion County and wasn't done with the appropriate protocol and the proper risk assessment and safety measures in place. The only thing that my sheriff and I were left to do was just let people know that it was happening."
Slamming Governor Brown's decision, Clarkson believes that, "these types of decisions are not reflective of public safety, they're not reflective of good decisions." She added that the decision would erode citizen's sense of justice and "tell them that they don't matter, that these offenders are being prioritized over them and over what happens to them, their families, and what is appropriate for public safety."
In an interview with Koin 6 News, she explained "We need victims to trust us. We need them to participate. We need them to be willing to come to court and to hang in there with us and Brown's decision is putting the average citizen and our state at risk." She was also contacted by a number of victims asking questions as to why the accused in this case was let go of so leniently.
The Daily Mail reports, Douglas County District Attorney Richard Wesenberg wrote a detailed letter to the Governor, describing that Hedquist was 'uninterested in having his version of events be based in reality." Further adding the office concerns that, "clemency for Mr. Hedquist will erode faith in the justice system. Specifically, clemency for Hedquist will demonstrate that a life sentence without the possibility of parole does not really mean a true-life sentence."
Liz Merah, Brown's spokeswoman released a statement explaining that in the lock up, Hedquist spent over 20 years volunteering for hospice care services in the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem.
In addition to this, his conditions of sentence commutation will incorporate lifetime supervision and GPS ankle monitoring for at least six months. And if there arises a situation where Hedquist is found violating any terms of his post-prison supervision, "the governor can revoke his commutation."