Sen. Ron Wyden’s thoughtless and ill-informed criticism of Gov. Kate Brown’s courageous grant of clemency to Kyle Hedquist is inappropriate and distressing.
The governor’s decision was carefully and thoughtfully drawn. She recognized that the 18-year-old offender of 28 years ago is not the mature man of today who is introspective and compassionate. According to Department of Corrections staff, Mr. Hedquist exhibits “a winning combination of curiosity, critical thinking and communication skills.” Over the decades, he has grown into a man who exemplifies redemption and renewal.
Gov. Brown’s judgment shared what the United States Supreme Court and the Oregon Court of Appeals have acknowledged, that “Juveniles … more often lack maturity and have an underdeveloped sense of responsibility; they are more vulnerable or susceptible to negative influences or outside pressures; and their personality traits are more transitory, less fixed, than those of adults … the signature qualities of youth are generally transient and amenable to reformation … a juvenile’s commission of a heinous offense usually does not signal an irretrievably depraved character in the same way that an adult’s commission of the same offense does.” State v Allen 294 Or App 301, 316, 432 P3d 250 (2018), citing Roper v Simmons 543 US 551, 125 S Ct 1183, 161 LEd 2d 1 (2005).
A review of the letter that the Oregon Department of Corrections sent in support of Mr. Hedquist’s request for commutation speaks volumes. Not only has his time in custody been devoid of any incidents of major misconduct, but he also has devoted his time to study, to volunteer work, to religion and in all ways to becoming a productive member of the community. He is described as “intelligent, committed, and creative…” working hard “to make the classroom a successful and welcoming space for others. … He is encouraging, shares resources ... has a cool head and works hard to overcome obstacles and resolve conflicts.”
He will be an asset to the community in which he will live, and the governor’s appropriate and considered recognition of this fact has set him on his new path.
Mr. Hedquist is not “getting off.” He has already spent more than half his life in custody and will be supervised by state authorities for the balance of his time on Earth. In the grueling confinement of prison, he managed to overcome the abuse and neglect that contributed to his crime nearly three decades ago. Those who would deny him a second chance continue to define his life by the worst thing he ever did. As a result, they endorse a policy of vengeance and retribution, rather than the principle of reformation which is the cornerstone of a civilized society. Sen. Wyden seems, sadly, to have joined their ranks.
In addition, Wyden’s remarks about this case now have provided political talking points to regressive district attorneys in this state, two of whom have viable, decent and hardworking electoral challengers. Republicans across Oregon (and, after the national media trumpeted his remarks, the country) have begun using a distorted view of Gov. Brown’s actions to argue that Democratic candidates are “soft on violent criminals” — a claim dramatically at odds with the truth.
Sen. Wyden should reconsider his remarks and his view of this case. He — and we all — should recognize and endorse Gov. Brown’s commendable efforts. She has and continues meticulously to review each request for potential clemency. Only where appropriate, just and necessary does she grant relief. Her compassion and care reflect the best of Oregonians and should be celebrated by us all.
Susan Elizabeth Reese Painter is a resident of Newport.