Oregon Governor Kate Brown is facing harsh condemnation for her decision earlier this month to grant clemency for convicted killer Kyle Hedquist without so much as informing the parents of then-19-year-old Nikki Thrasher that their daughter’s killer is back on the streets.
“He took the life of my daughter in cold blood,” mother Holly Thrasher told KOIN 6. “It was a cold-blooded murder. He planned it.”
“I am upset,” Thrasher continued. “I wasn’t even told.”
In 1994, Hedquist, then 17 years old, led Nikki Thrasher down a lonely Douglas County logging road and shot her in the back of the head to ensure she didn’t tell anyone about his recent burglary spree, according to the Daily Mail. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
But Hedquist, now 45, is getting a new lease on life from Governor Brown, in the name of “second chances.”
“Teenagers, even those who have committed terrible crimes, have a unique capacity for growth and change,” Brown said in a statement on social media. “We are a state and a nation of second chances.”
In a tweet Tuesday acknowledging the recent move by President Joe Biden to pardon and/or commute the sentences of nearly 80 convicted felons, Brown defended, without actually mentioning his name, her decision to commute Hedquist and denied allegations that her office failed to notify the Thrasher family.
“We are a state and a nation of second chances,” Brown said. “And that means giving another chance even to Oregonians who have committed crimes that are incredibly hard to forgive.”
“Ensuring that the families of the victims of these crimes have input in these decisions is incredibly important to me, which is why my office always notifies the district attorney involved in a case when a clemency application is even under consideration, so that they can reach out to the victim’s family in a sensitive and trauma-informed way,” Brown stated. “To be clear: my office always takes this step, with every clemency application that is under consideration, so that victims can have a voice in the process.”
I applaud @POTUS for commuting and pardoning these 78 individuals, who are committed to rehabilitation and their communities.
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
— Governor Kate Brown (@OregonGovBrown) April 26, 2022
Thrasher insists her opinion was never sought by the governor’s office, and now, reports KOIN 6, she fears for her safety and that of her son.
In a Tuesday statement, Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin said, “The executive clemency granted by Governor Brown in this case is shocking and irresponsible.”
Due to the community’s concern for their safety, Douglas County refused to allow Hedquist to return following his release, the Daily Mail reports.
Hedquist was “uninterested in having his version of events be based in reality,” stated Douglas County District Attorney Richard Wesenberg.
In a letter to Governor Brown, Wesenberg said, “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,” Wesenberg wrote, “many statements fly in the face of the evidence.”
“This office has concerns that clemency for Mr. Hedquist will erode faith in the justice system,” Wesenberg said. “Specifically, clemency for Hedquist will demonstrate that a life sentence without the possibility of parole does not really mean a true-life sentence.”
Marion Country District Attorney Paige Clarkson agreed, stating the decision tells citizens 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,” Clarkson told KOIN 6. “We need them to participate. We need them to be willing to come to court and to hang in there with us.
According to Clarkson, Brown’s belief in second chances “is putting the average citizen and our state at risk.”
Like Douglas County, Marion County has denied Hedquist entry into its jurisdiction.
In a joint statement with Sheriff Joe Kast, whose county includes Salem, Clarkson and Kast expressed “significant safety concerns surrounding the sudden and ill-planned governor’s commutation.”
“Hedquist tricked the victim into driving him to a rural Douglas County location where he shot the victim execution-style in the back of the head and dumped her body along the road,” the statement read. “Hedquist admitted killing her to eliminate a witness in hope of preventing his own capture.”
Governor Brown has dismissed her critics’ concerns as fearmongering for “political points.”
“I am disappointed that several district attorneys have chosen of late to score political points by issuing press releases that stoke public fears in these cases, decades after the original crimes were committed,” she said in her tweeted statement. “In the intervening years, often 20 or more, the Oregonians granted clemency have demonstrated that they have turned their lives around and pose a low risk to anyone in the public.”
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