Marion DA wants governor to revoke commutations, return 55 to prison

Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson is asking Gov. Tina Kotek to revoke the sentence commutations for 57 people, a move that she hopes would return 55 to prison to serve their full sentences and extend time in prison for two others.

Clarkson said the former inmates have committed new crimes or violated their parole conditions since their release from prison.

They were among 138 Marion County inmates released early over a period from late 2020 to early 2022. Gov. Kate Brown commuted their sentences to reduce prison populations during the Covid pandemic and to reward inmates who served on wildfire crews during 2020.

If Kotek supports the prosecutor’s move, the defendants could be heading back to prison to serve their full sentences. One defendant had nine days remaining and another had 13 days to serve, according to Clarkson’s records. Most had six months to a year shaved off their sentences by Brown’s commutation.

“My objective with this is for these people to return to prison” to serve their original sentences, Clarkson said in an interview on Wednesday, Nov. 22.

Clarkson said she was acting to ensure defendants are held fully accountable for their crimes. She also said she intended to protect the criminal justice system – from police to juries – that works to prosecute criminals. Cutting sentences means the full measure of justice is not applied, Clarkson said.

She said it’s likely that some crimes wouldn’t have happened if the perpetrators had still been in prison. She acknowledged that there is recidivism among inmates released after serving their full sentences.

In August, Kotek invited district attorneys in the state to recommend revocation of clemency grants.

“If I believe someone is violating their conditions of release or supervision and revocation is warranted, I will not hesitate to use my authority and discretion as governor to revoke their commutation,” the governor wrote in her Aug. 8 letter.

“We must remain committed to a process of justice that keeps that goal at the forefront.”

–Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson

The Marion County District Attorney’s Office reviewed the histories of 138 people prosecuted in the past to identify candidates for full reinstatement of sentences. Clarkson said the review was laborious, taking her staff months.

Among those she is recommending for revocation are those who committed crimes against people or other felonies, were convicted of misdemeanors or violated their parole conditions.

She reported to Kotek that 11 defendants had been charged or convicted of criminal acts against people after their release. Two of those are currently in state prison on other charges, according to the spreadsheet compiled by her office. In one instance, the spreadsheet recorded “none known” so it wasn’t clear why the individual made the list.

Another 30 are facing or have been convicted of other felony crimes, sometimes in other counties, since their release, the spreadsheet showed. This included crimes such as drug possession, vehicle theft, forgery and theft.

And 16 more violated parole or had been convicted of misdemeanor crimes.

“I now formally ask that you use your discretion and authorize revocations for 57 individuals,” Clarkson wrote in a Nov. 15 letter to the governor.

In announcing her request on Tuesday, Nov. 21, Clarkson said in a statement, “Public safety should be a priority for every leader in our state. We must remain committed to a process of justice that keeps that goal at the forefront.”

She said urged that “previous missteps be remedied.”

The person crimes attributed to the freed inmates range from menacing to assaulting a police officer, according to Clarkson’s spreadsheet.

Clarkson cited the case of Thomas P. Healy, 58, who she said is awaiting trial for a murder “committed within only one year of Governor Brown’s release.” He is accused of killing a man in Salem’s Geer Park in August 2022. According to Clarkson’s spreadsheet, he was released in December 2020, 10 months ahead of when his sentence would have been fulfilled.

The prosecutor also said she had no authority to act on parole violations, but considered those grounds justifying a return to prison.

Clarkson said that if a commutation is revoked, the state would issue a warrant to arrest those with time still to serve. She said it’s possible that some sentences could be served in county jails for defendants who are awaiting trial on new charges.

She said she would oppose allowing defendants to serve any required state time concurrent with new jail or prison sentences. The remaining months of the original sentence should be served in addition to that time, Clarkson said.

Clarkson said she has no indication from Kotek’s office of how long her staff would take to decide on the 57 cases.

A spokesman for the governor’s office said Wednesday that information wasn’t readily available on how many revocations Kotek has already ordered or how many requests similar to Clarkson’s are pending. 

Contact Editor Les Zaitz: [email protected].

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Les Zaitz is editor and CEO of Salem Reporter. He co-founded the news organization in 2018. He has been a journalist in Oregon for nearly 50 years in both daily and community newspapers and digital news services. He is nationally recognized for his commitment to local journalism. He also is editor and publisher of the Malheur Enterprise in Vale, Oregon.