The Oregon Supreme Court Thursday revoked the death sentence of a man convicted of aggravated murder in Marion County, a decision that could set in motion new sentencing for other inmates also sentenced to death.

The court in a unanimous opinion sustained David Ray Bartol's 2016 aggravated murder conviction but reversed his death sentence, sending his case back to the Marion County Circuit Court for resentencing. He killed a jail inmate in 2013, according to court records.

“Maintaining his death sentence would allow the execution of a person for conduct that the legislature has determined no longer justifies that unique and ultimate punishment, and it would allow the execution of a person for conduct that the legislature has determined is no more culpable than conduct that should not result in death,” the opinion said.

READ IT: Supreme Court opinion

Bartol, 50, is an inmate at the Oregon State Penitentiary.

A jury convicted Bartol for committing a murder while in custody in a penal or correctional facility, a charge which at the time constituted aggravated murder. That was the only crime punishable by death in Oregon.

While Bartol was appealing his conviction and death sentence, the Oregon Legislature in 2019 enacted SB 1013, which reclassified all forms of murder previously considered aggravated murder as first-degree murder and made them no longer subject to the death penalty.

The legislation applied to crimes that were the subject of proceedings from Sept. 29, 2019.

Bartol had been sentenced before that date, but Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Duncan wrote in an opinion that maintaining the death sentence for criminal conduct that's no longer punishable by death "would be disproportionate" and violate the Oregon Constitution.

Following the ruling, Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson said in a news release that the ruling effectively eliminated the death penalty in Oregon.

“While the proponents of SB 1013 assured the public that the legislation would not be retroactively applied to offenders like Bartol, today’s holding all but promises that anyone in Oregon previously lawfully sentenced to death under the prior definition of aggravated murder can now seek resentencing without the death penalty as an option," Clarkson said. "David Bartol is likely only the first beneficiary in what will be a chain reaction of new sentences for the most horrific of crimes by the most dangerous of offenders."

In 2016, the jury had found Bartol guilty of killing a prisoner in the Marion County Jail by stabbing him in the eye with a shank and using a shoe as a hammer to "pound the shank through the victim's brain," Clarkson said.

"Each of these offenders represents unspeakable tragedy to those victims whose lives were upended first by the loss of their loved one, and now despite enduring a lengthy and painful criminal justice process, will be upended again as new sentencings reopen old wounds," she said. "To those victims, I apologize. Not for the efforts of my office to hold offenders like David Bartol accountable, but because our system has failed you."

 Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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