Parole decision mishandled

The state seal in the Capitol.

The state seal in the Capitol.

The Oregon Board of Parole caved under outside pressure and canceled the June 7 release date of Sidney Dean Porter. The way this was handled leaves a bad taste.

Now 53, Porter killed a police officer in John Day in the early hours of April 8, 1992. The officer, Frank L. Ward, had gone to Porter's house on a complaint of loud music. The drunken Porter overpowered him and beat him to death, according to the police. Porter says the officer died when his head hit a wood stove.

Porter pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and was sentenced to life. This winter the parole board held hearings and agreed he had served enough time. This caused several prosecutors, police officials and politicians to complain. One of the objectors was Rep. Sherrie Sprenger of Scio, who was a Grant County deputy in the 1980s and knew of Porter then.

First the board said it had carefully considered the case and stood by its decision. But then Governor Kitzhaber leaned on the board, and it canceled the parole.

The critics all complained that the parole board didn't have enough information. It would seem, though, that if it had several hearings, it had more information than most of the critics.

Killing a man in a drunken rage is not the same as a calculated murder for personal gain, and if a man has served 21 years in prison without further complaint, it's not unreasonable to believe he has earned parole. To grant it and then snatch it away -- that's a crime in itself. (hh)

Shelly Garrett responded on June 6:  Can see where you're coming from. The guy was at his home (a man's castle) with the expectancy that he can do pretty much what he wants to. His actions from the point at which the officer arrived are the part step away from any rights he had, drunk or not, he took a life. The fact that he didn't plan it doesn't apply in my opinion; consider the reason for the murder.  Although clearly influenced by a local legislator, I don't think the decision is wrong. I think what bugs you is that it WAS influenced that way. She has skin in this game because she was a friend of the officer. It was her right to jump in... If she wasn't a state rep, would this have left that taste in your mouth?  Don't think so. I get where you're coming from, but I don't think it's something to be outraged about. The officer is dead and his family lost him forever. That's unforgivable.

My response: No, what bugged me about this is that now and then I try to put myself in the shoes of someone in prison for many years. I cannot imagine a punishment worse than that, especially if it's imposed for an essentially impulsive, unpremeditated act. Then, finally, the authorities dangle freedom in front of a guy, and then they yank it away. That's not how government ought to act. (hh)

Sam Suklis responded on June 6: I've always felt that a parole board should be required to take anyone they let go into one of their own homes, to live there for a period of one year upon release, as assurance to the public that they really believe it's safe to let him/her go.

Help for chained dogs

Keeping an eye on the legislature: The subject is tethering.

Keeping an eye on the legislature: Today's subject is tethering.

The Oregon legislature is nearly done enacting a new law on tethering dogs and other domestic animals. The Senate on Tuesday passed, 25-4, House Bill 2783, which now is back in the House for concurrence with amendments.

Some people have grumped whether lawmakers don't have more important things to worry about. They do, but that doesn't mean they can't also try to help animals suffering from abuse.

The bill calls for a fine of up to $1,000 for unlawful tethering. That means trying up an animal in such a way that it's likely to get entangled or choke, or that it can't get out of the weather or its own excrement. Also, animals are not to be tethered for more than 10 hours in a 24-hour period, or 15 hours if the tether is on an overhead line with a pulley.

All this may be difficult to enforce, But if you've seen dogs chained in terrible conditions for weeks or months at a time, you will agree that trying to do something about that is worth a try. Jim Dohr of the Albany police testified for the bill on behalf of the Oregon Animal Control Council, pointing out that it would not affect any routine confining of dogs during transport or other activities such as hunting..

By preventing or punishing cruelty to animals, the bill may well do some good once it is law. (hh)

The deer and us

It's no longer rare to look up from writing and see a deer in the yard.

It's no longer rare to look up from writing something and see a deer in the yard.

A book reviewer in the Wall Street Journal wrote that in this country it's about as hard to see a deer as it is to buy gas. He had recently seen one, a deer that is, at the service station in his little town. The review was about "Deerland," by Al Cambronne and published by Lyons Press. The book is about the interaction between deer and humans, and how the booming deer population has influenced everything from farming and forestry to public policy.

Around here, in Oregon's mid-Willamette Valley, we are familiar with the conflicts that arise. Out of the corner of your eye you see a doe about to cross the road in front of you, and of course you slam on the brake. If you and the animal are lucky, you stop in time or it changes its mind and ambles back into the brush.

Then there are the birch saplings you bought and planted, and one morning you wake up to see them stripped of most of their leaves. Wire enclosures mean nothing to young deer, you discover. Still, you learn to admire the graceful way they can hop the fence from a standing start.

The populations of both deer and people are expanding, and near towns we humans shrink their habitat more and more. So we can expect conflicts to continue. It's up to us to adjust. This means, among other things, slowing down on the drive home. (hh)

How about meadows instead?

Could we learn to like tall grass?

Could we learn to like tall grass?

It has finally gotten warm in Oregon's mid-Willamette Valley. And the grass is doing what grass does when it turns warm after a period of rain: It grows. So you cut it down, or if you're lucky somebody cuts it down for you. And two or three days later, it needs cutting again. Which brings up the perennial question: Why do we insist that grass be short? Or, put another way, what's wrong with grass that grows as tall as it wants?

If you drive through the countryside now, likely as not you drive past vast expanses of grass-seed fields. These fields look perfectly fine, the way fields should look. Not only that, but when the sun beats down on them they smell good too.

So why don't we let our lawns -- or alleged lawns in some cases -- be like regular fields? Why not just let the grass grow? Well, societal pressure, for one thing. As long as you live in a neighborhood of trim lawns, letting your grass take over marks you as a slob, or at least a nonconformist, and maybe even as an extremist where nature is concerned. The prevailing opinion has it that, alas, a carefully trimmed lawn looks better than one that's left to grow wild. But if we want to spend less time trudging around behind a mower, we first would have to agree that yards should look like meadows instead of lawns. (hh)

Michele LaBounty (via Facebook): Yes! Meadows are much more beautiful and relaxing to see than tightly manicured lawns. And they're great habitat for birds and other creatures. Just think of how quiet it would be without mowers, edgers and, of course, blowers to sweep those nasty pieces of cut grass into the street!

Sam Suklis (via Facebook): I saw a blog recently that called Albany the "City of yellow lawns" as part of a commentary on the city's extortionate water rates: I guess the advantage there is miles and miles of dead lawns that don't need mowing any more. It is kind of interesting, if you drive through West Albany any time from July to fall, for example, with dead lawns in mind, what a huge majority "yellow" lawns there actually are.

Gordon L. Shadle: What's wrong with grass that grows as tall as it wants? If your grass grows longer than a "prevailing height" (whatever that means) of 15 inches you could be charged with a misdemeanor per Albany Municipal Code 18.30.105. And subject to a $2,500 fine. My privately-owned meadow of 14.9 inches within the city limits is considered clean, sanitary and safe. But if I let it grow to 15.1 inches my beautiful meadow makes me a criminal. Such is the nature of local government.

How feds could stop gun sales

Gun bills remain pending in the state Senate.

Gun bills remain pending in the state Senate.

When last we heard of four Oregon bills intended to trouble or punish gun owners, the bills had been sent to the Senate Rules Committee because they lacked the votes to pass the Senate as a whole. On Monday they remained stuck in the committee, where Senate President Peter Courtney hoped a deal could be reached to pass them.

The Oregon Firearms Federation reported earlier that the anti-gun campaign funded by Mayor Bloomberg of New York was working on legislators, presumably hoping to apply pressure to opponents of these bills.

One of the measures, Senate Bill 700, would penalize private citizens if they transfer a firearm without first obtaining a criminal background check on the buyer. On Monday morning the state police reported that the National Instant Check System was out of action. No one could buy a gun from a licensed dealer until the service was restored at about 9:30 a.m. It was a reminder of the power the background check requirement gives the government over a constitutionally protected right.

Monday's shutdown of the instant background check system was accidental. If the system is ever shut down intentionally, as federal officials might some day be tempted to do if political corruption gets to them, the administration could stop legal gun sales regardless of what state or federal lawmakers say. (hh)

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