Death Row inmates use appeals process to the limit

Death Row inmates use appeals process to the limit
ROSEBURG, Ore. - When the two men who were convicted of the Woodburn bank bombing that killed two police officers are officially sentenced to death, there will be 36 men on death row in the Oregon State Penitentiary.

Douglas County has four men who were convicted of aggravated murder on death row, and some have been there for decades.

They include Michael Martin McDonnell, 59, who has been on death row since the mid-'80s; Clinton Cunningham, 43, who has been there since 1991; Jesse Fanus, 31, was convicted in 1999; and Alberto Reyes-Camarena, 55, who was sent to death row in 1997.

Douglas County District Attorney Rick Wesenberg said Oregon laws prolong the process, and it is very costly. "At every step of the way, you have lawyers and judges reviewing hundreds and hundreds and sometimes thousands of pages of transcripts, and these cases take, to wind their way through the system, the attorney general estimates probably about 20 years from start to finish," said Wesenberg.

Michael McDonnell was 33 when he was convicted 26 years ago, of murdering a Roseburg woman just north of Yoncalla in the mid-1980s. The penalty phase part of the trial has been tried three times after being sent back to Douglas County in the appeals process. Each time, the jury has handed down the death sentence.

Wesenberg said the appeals process is extremely costly to the state, and most of the attorneys in those cases are court-appointed, so the public is paying for them. "We are somewhere between number one and number four in the country on the amount of money we spend on capital defense," said Wesenberg, "and so all of this goes to ensuring that everyone's rights were protected, and that we got the right guy. "

Alberto Reyes-Camarena was convicted in October of 1996 when he was 41, for stabbing to death a woman he was traveling with in western Douglas County.

Jesse Fanus was 19 when he was sentenced to death in May of 1999, for killing war hero Major General Marion Carl in a home invasion break-in near Glide.

Clinton Cunningham was convicted of killing a British Columbia woman that he picked up in Coos County while she was hitchhiking.

Wesenberg said some of the Death Row inmates are nearing the end of their appeals options, but some could go many more years, with possible federal appeals still to come.

The last person executed in Oregon was Harry Moore in 1997, and that was only because he gave up his right to appeals.