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Convicted killer seeks to hasten execution in Oregon

September 27, 2011 |  3:40 pm

Gary-haugen-lrjcp8pdGary Haugen wants badly to become the first inmate to be put to death in Oregon since 1997.

Seeking to end the lengthy process of appeals and delays that have postponed his execution--recently set for Aug. 16 before the latest delay--the 49-year-old convicted killer is asking a judge in Salem to clear the state to proceed with the lethal injection that will end his life.

"This is my free will. This is my constitutional right. We are at a point where I get, as I said before, the right to choose," Haugen told the court earlier this year. He compared the lawyers who were trying to save his life to "tree huggers" who leave a tree to die of disease in a forest rather than allow it to be cut down by loggers.

"It's probably breaking so many hearts to have to come in here over and over and over when we need to take care of this. You know, we need to put this to sleep," he said. "That's probably the wrong expression."

On Tuesday, Marion County Circuit Judge Joseph Guimond heard testimony that Haugen is capable of making reasonable choices about his legal strategy, but he stopped short of ruling yet that the convict is competent to be executed. That determination will be made after at least one more hearing, including a question session with Haugen.

Haugen's initial legal team argued, over his opposition, that he was delusional, indecisive and not mentally competent to make the decision to end his appeals, and in the process, his life.

That prompted the Oregon Supreme Court to cancel the Aug. 16 execution and send the matter  to Guimond to make a determination.

Haugen has spent the majority of his life in the Oregon state penitentiary. In 1981, at the age of 19, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison for beating his former girlfriend's mother to death with his fists, a hammer and a baseball bat, purportedly because she was trying to persuade her daughter to get an abortion.

In 2007, he and another inmate were sentenced to death for killing fellow prisoner David Polin four years earlier. Polin, whom they wrongly believed had told authorities about another inmate's drug use, was stabbed 84 times and his skull was crushed.

Oregon authorities have already had a practice execution. The Marion County district attorney's office has argued that Haugen is competent to make decisions about his case.

Earlier this year, the inmate's defense team argued that he suffered from attention deficit disorder, fetal alcohol syndrome and possible cognitive problems as a result of head trauma. He has vacillated in his directions to his lawyers as to whether they should waive further appeals, the attorneys said in a letter to the court in June.

A neuropsychologist hired by the defense concluded that Haugen was not competent to be executed.

But Haugen objected to any new evidentiary hearing and asked for permission to fire his defense team. Guimond agreed to set his execution for Aug. 16, but the state Supreme Court stepped in, suspending the death warrant and ordering the judge to conduct further examinations and hearings to determine whether Haugen was indeed competent to fire his lawyers and waive his right to appeals.

Forensic psychologist Richard Hulteng subsequently examined Haugen and testified Tuesday that he does not suffer from mental illness or delusions and is competent to make decisions about his legal defense, according to the Statesman-Journal in Salem, which monitored the hearing.

Another hearing has been set for Oct. 7. Only two inmates have been executed in Oregon since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1984.

Haugen in May made it clear he was ready to become the third. "Do you understand what the effect of the death sentence will be?" Guimond asked him then.

"Well, one of them will be that we'll never have to have this conversation again," Haugen replied.

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--Kim Murphy in Seattle

Photo: Gary Haugen, left, walks out of Marion County Courthouse in Salem, Ore. on Sept. 14. Credit: Kobbi R. Blair, Salem Statesman-Journal/Associated Press.

 

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