Who is Kyle Hedquist? Oregon guv slammed for setting killer who was on 'life without parole' FREE
Victim Nikki Thrasher's mother, local police and prosecutors have accused the Democrat governor of jeopardizing public safety by releasing Hedquist
Oregon Governor Kate Brown has been been slammed for granting mercy to Kyle Hedquist -- a convicted killer who shot an adolescent girl, and then failing to inform the victim's family that he was back on the streets.
Despite being sentenced to life in prison for murdering Nikki Thrasher when she was 19, Brown released Hedquist earlier this month.
Hedquist, 45, lured Thrasher down a secluded logging road and shot her in the back of the head to prevent her from informing others about his theft spree. Brown argues that because Hedquist was 17 at the time of the crime, he shouldn't be sentenced to life in prison. Brown stated, "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." However, Thrasher's mother, as well as local police and prosecutors, have accused the Democrat governor of jeopardizing public safety by releasing Hedquist.
"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," Holly Thrasher, who wasn't even informed of Hedquist's parole, told KOIN 6. Despite Brown's previous assertion that she "always" reaches out to victim's families so that the "victim can have a voice," the mother claimed she was never asked for her input on his release. According to KOIN 6, Thrasher also expressed concern for her and her son's safety now that her daughter's killer is free.
"The executive clemency granted by Governor Brown in this case is shocking and irresponsible," Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin stated on Tuesday, April 26. In 1995, Hedquist, 45, was found guilty in Douglas County Circuit Court. Due to community safety concerns, the county refused to allow Hedquist to return after he was awarded mercy.
Douglas County District Attorney Richard Wesenberg stated in a comprehensive letter to the governor that Hedquist was "uninterested in having his version of events be based in reality." "There are thousands of pages of discovery on this case, and yet large swaths of Hedquist’s petition are completely unsupported by any of them. In fact, many statements fly in the face of the evidence," Wesenberg wrote. "This office has 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."
"These types of decisions are not reflective of public safety, they're not reflective of good decisions," Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson stated. She further claimed that the decision will undermine citizens' sense of justice by "telling 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."
"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," Clarkson said on KOIN 6. Brown's policies, she added, are "putting the average citizen and our state at risk." The Governor's Office was denied permission to release the killer to an address in Marion County as well. After finding no suitable housing in Douglas or Marion Counties, Hedquist was released to the Salem home of a former prison chaplain earlier this month.
On Saturday, Clarkson and Sheriff Joe Kast, whose county includes Salem, issued a public safety alert, expressing "significant safety concerns surrounding the governor's ill-planned commutation."
Clarkson also told KOIN 6: "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."
Brown, on the other hand, defended her clemencies, comparing them to those awarded by President Joe Biden on Tuesday, who granted clemency to 78 persons for nonviolent offences. In a 2012 judgement, the US Supreme Court stated that only the most heinous, irredeemable juvenile offenders should be sentenced to life in prison, but this only applies to federal prosecutions.
According to the Washington, DC-based Sentencing Project, which advocates for humane solutions to crime, more than a half-dozen states have barred adolescents being sentenced to life without parole. The Oregon Legislature, which is dominated by Democrats, approved such a law in 2019, but the state Supreme Court determined that it is not retroactive. Brown, a Democrat who is not standing for reelection this year due to term limitations, has been accused by Republicans of being soft on crime as a result of Hedquist's commutation.
"As with many others, the facts of this case is outrageous and brutal," said Oregon Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp on Tuesday. "The Governor continues to let violent criminals out of prison, and Democrats in the majority remain silent."
Brown, on the other hand, stated that she had turned down the majority of clemency requests. "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," Brown stated.
Hedquist spent over 20 years volunteering for hospice care services while incarcerated at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, according to Liz Merah, Brown's spokeswoman.
In a piece that received 'honorable mention in memoir' in PEN America's 2019 Prison Writing Contest, Hedquist wrote about caring for the dying convicts. Hedquist wrote, "I couldn't have known all those years ago that death would bring my humanity back. So I sat, I listened, their teary-eyed regurgitation of their crimes burned my ears, they left a bitter taste in my mouth as I consumed the confessions...but somehow just being with them and listening lightened their burden before death stepped in to take them."
I applaud @POTUS for commuting and pardoning these 78 individuals, who are committed to rehabilitation and their communities.— Governor Kate Brown (@OregonGovBrown) April 26, 2022
We are a nation of second chances—and that means giving another chance even to Oregonians who have committed crimes that are incredibly hard to forgive. https://t.co/6k4bMPV1Oj pic.twitter.com/xxM5aAfB45
Brown also accused 'several district attorneys' of gaining political advantage in these cases by instilling public dread. Clemency recipients have proved that they have changed their life and represent little risk to the public, she said.
Hedquist's sentence commutation includes lifetime supervision and GPS ankle monitoring for at least six months, said Merah. "If Mr. Hedquist violates any terms of his post-prison supervision, the governor can revoke his commutation," Merah stated.
Brown has given 1,148 sentence commutations since assuming office in 2015 - 963 of them to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in jails, according to Merah. There were also 41 commutations for inmates who fought wildfires and 72 commutations for juveniles who committed crimes and were sentenced to more than 15 years in prison. Sixty three pardons were also given by Brown. Commutations are used to shorten prison sentences, whereas pardons are used to forgive criminal defendants.