Oregon’s soft-on-crime Democratic Gov. Kate Brown has been assailed for recently granting clemency to a convict serving life with no parole in the 1994 cold-blooded murder of a teenager – without telling the victim’s family.
Kyle Hedquist, then 17, led 19-year-old Nikki Thrasher down a remote logging road and shot her in the back of the head because he feared she might tell police about burglaries he had committed.
He was convicted of murder in 1995 and sentenced to life behind bars without the possibility of parole.
However, earlier this month, Brown granted the killer clemency – sparking a wave of criticism from prosecutors, law enforcement, politicians and Thrasher’s family.
The teen’s mother, Holly Thrasher, said she wasn’t even made aware of Brown’s decision.
“I am upset. I wasn’t even told,” she told KOIN 6 News, which informed her that Hedquist, now 45, was sprung.
In a statement, Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin said: “The executive clemency granted by Gov. Brown in this case is shocking and irresponsible.”
Republicans slammed the woke governor – who is not running for re-election because of term limits – of being soft on crime.
“As with many others, the facts of this case are outrageous and brutal,” Oregon Senate GOP Leader Tim Knopp said Tuesday. “The governor continues to let violent criminals out of prison, and Democrats in the majority remain silent.”
Douglas County District Attorney Richard Wesenberg sent a letter to Brown’s office objecting to Hedquist’s release, saying the killer is “uninterested in having his version of events be based in reality,” KOIN reported.
“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,” Wesenberg wrote. “In fact, many statements fly in the face of the evidence.”
His statement continued: “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.”
On Tuesday, the governor defended her actions, comparing them to President Joe Biden’s granting of clemency that day to 78 people — though those were all for nonviolent crimes.
“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,” Brown said on social media.
In a 2012 ruling, the US Supreme Court said that only the rare, irredeemable federal juvenile cases should result in life in prison.
Brown said she has denied most 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,” she said.
Hedquist has been released to the Salem home of a former prison chaplain after a suitable place could not be located for him in Douglas County, where the killer was from.
Marion County DA Paige Clarkson and Sheriff Joe Kast, whose county includes Salem, have issued a public safety notice in which they 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,” they said. “Hedquist admitted killing her to eliminate a witness in hope of preventing his own capture.”
Brown accused “several district attorneys” of scoring political points by stoking public fear in these cases – and insisted that Oregonians granted clemency have shown they have turned their lives around and pose a low risk to the public.
Liz Merah, the governor’s spokeswoman, said that while locked up in the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, Hedquist spent over 20 years volunteering for hospice care services.
He wrote about caring for the dying inmates in a piece that was awarded “honorable mention in memoir” in PEN America’s 2019 Prison Writing Contest.
“I couldn’t have known all those years ago that death would bring my humanity back,” Hedquist wrote.
“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,” he wrote.
Merah said his conditions of sentence commutation include lifetime supervision and GPS ankle monitoring for at least six months.
“If Mr. Hedquist violates any terms of his post-prison supervision, the governor can revoke his commutation,” she said.
Thrasher’s mother, meanwhile, lamented that Hedquist “took the life of my daughter in cold blood. It was a cold-blooded murder. He planned it.”
She told KOIN: “He tricked her, drove her to a remote location, shot her in the back of the head execution-style and dumped her body on the side of the road.”
With Post wires