Oregon prison chief: Death row cell not a hardship

ROSEBURG, Ore. — Death row is not a significant hardship compared to ordinary prison life, the head of Oregon State Penitentiary said in response to a federal lawsuit filed by a convicted killer who wants to be moved into the general population while he awaits a new sentencing hearing.

Death row inmates eat the same food as other prisoners and are allowed to exercise regularly and watch TV, Superintendent Jeff Premo said in the court filing, the Roseburg News-Review reported Thursday.

Cells on death row also have air conditioning, unlike those for the general prison population, and inmates on death row get to control their lights, Premo wrote.

The prisoner, Jesse Fanus, 34, was sentenced to death in 1999 for the murder of an 82-year-old former Marine Corps flying ace in Douglas County.

A judge overturned the death sentence more than two years ago, ruling Fanus had been poorly represented in the penalty phase of his trial. Though his conviction stands, a new sentencing hearing has been set for February. Prosecutors again plan to seek the death penalty.

Fanus has been seeking to leave death row while awaiting the new hearing. His suit says inmates on death row spend 22 to 23 hours a day in their cells, eat meals alone and are allowed only up to 1 1/2 hours of yard time a day, five days a week.

“Death row prisoners lead a life of isolation, they are deprived of meaningful human contact, and they are deprived of most other incentives and privileges that are available in prison life,” the lawsuit states. “They live what can only be described as a miserable existence until they die a natural death, or, in very rare circumstances, are executed.”

Premo, however, said death row inmates generally have more notoriety and might be targeted by other inmates in lower-level security housing.

There are more than 30 inmates on Oregon’s death row. Since Oregon voters in 1984 reinstated capital punishment, just two inmates have been executed — both after giving up further appeals.

Gov. John Kitzhaber has placed a moratorium on executions during his time in office, even for inmates who want to die.

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