Governor under fire after it emerges person of interest released to fight wildfires before deaths

‘Oregonians shouldn’t have to die because Democrats followed a failed policy of letting criminals out of prison,’ GOP state senate leader says

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Thursday 20 July 2023 21:07 BST

Related video: Deaths of 4 women connected to man who was released from prison early in 2021

The person of interest in the Oregon deaths of four women was let out early from prison because of concerns that Covid-19 was spreading in prisons.

Jesse Lee Calhoun, 38, was arrested on 6 June. The four women have been found dead in the Portland Metro Area since February.

He was released among around 1,000 other inmates who were granted clemency by former Oregon Governor Kate Brown in 2021 as Covid-19 was spreading among inmates, according to the Willamette Week.

Calhoun was jailed in 2019 following a number of burglaries, in addition to possessing a stolen vehicle, injuring a police officer, and choking a police dog. He was set to remain behind bars until June 2022. A key factor in his early release was his work fighting wildfires.

He has been named as a person of interest in the deaths of Ashley Real, Bridget Webster, Kristin Smith, and Charity Lynn Perry.

Worries about a possible serial killer began to take form last month as all women died in suspicious ways around the Portland metro area.

Robyn Speaks’s sister Joanna was found dead in a rural area with blunt force trauma to her head and neck, police have said, with the case later being billed as a homicide.

Ms Speaks told NewsNation that she believes the police “are trying to make sure that they keep the public from being too freaked out about [a] serial killer. Either way, women are dying. And the numbers are rising”.

“No charges have been filed against anyone in connection with any of these four death investigations,” the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office and law enforcement agencies said in a press release. “Investigators have interviewed multiple people in connection with these cases and have identified at least one person of interest that is linked to all four of the decedents.”

The Oregon Senate GOP rebuked Ms Brown on Twitter for the early release of prisoners.

“Governor Kate Brown let >1,000 violent criminals out of prison early and now one of them is a top suspect in the killing of 4 women. A deadly consequence of a soft-on-crime Democrat governor & a soft-on-crime Democrat majority that refused to hold her accountable,” they wrote.

Oregon Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp said in a statement that “Even after leaving public office as America’s most unpopular governor, Kate Brown’s legacy continues to have dire consequences for Oregonians. If Jesse Lee Calhoun is found guilty of these murders, Kate Brown will have signed the death warrants of four innocent women in the name of ‘second chances’”.

“Oregon Democrats have a pathetic record of putting criminals over victims and patting themselves on the back for it. We have not forgotten that the Democrat majority stayed totally silent while Governor Brown issued a record number of commutations and pardons for drug dealers, murderers, rapists, and other violent offenders like Calhoun. This is disgraceful,” he added. “On behalf of all Oregonians, we demand that Democrat leaders govern to protect-not jeopardize-the lives of Oregonians by holding criminals accountable and allowing law enforcement to keep us safe. Our hearts go out to the victims’ families, and we pray for healing in the years to come. The perpetrator must be fully held accountable.”

During an appearance on Fox News, Mr Knopp added that “Oregonians shouldn’t have to die because Democrats followed a failed policy of letting criminals out of prison and giving them a second chance when their victims don’t get a second chance”.

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