Oregon governor declares moratorium on death penalty
Saying he "simply cannot participate in something I believe to be morally wrong," Gov. John Kitzhaber on Tuesday declared a moratorium on the death penalty in Oregon, granting a temporary reprieve for an inmate who has battled in the courts to hasten his own execution.
"The death penalty as practiced in Oregon is neither fair nor just, and it is not swift or certain. It is not applied equally to all," said Kitzhaber, a Democrat who came back after a hiatus to a third term as governor in 2010.
"It is time for Oregon to consider a different approach. I refuse to be a part of this compromised and inequitable system any longer, and I will not allow further executions while I am governor," Kitzhaber said, reading from a statement at an emotional news conference.
The decision cancels the Dec. 6 execution set for Gary Haugen, convicted of the 2004 stabbing and beating of a fellow inmate in prison, where Haugen was already serving a life sentence for the aggravated murder of his ex-girlfriend's mother, Mary Archer.
Only a day earlier, the Oregon Supreme Court, in a divided opinion, had cleared the way for Haugen's death by lethal injection, despite objections by the inmate's former lawyers and others that he was not mentally competent to set aside his appeals.
A total of 37 inmates on Oregon's death row now face no possibility of death during the current administration. Kitzhaber's term expires in January 2015 and he has not said if he'll seek reelection.
Only two executions have been carried out in the 27 years since Oregon voters authorized the death penalty, both approved by Kitzhaber during his previous administration and both involving inmates who had waived further appeals.
"They were the most agonizing and difficult decisions I have made as governor, and I have revisited and questioned them over and over again during the past 14 years," said Kitzhaber, who was a physician and state legislator before being elected to his first term in 1994.
"It is a perversion of justice that the single best indicator of who will and will not be executed has nothing to do with the circumstances of a crime or the findings of a jury. The only factor that determines whether someone sentenced to death in Oregon is actually executed is that they volunteer," the governor said.
A total of 34 states have the death penalty, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center, and 43 people have been executed this year. Texas has had the most executions since the U.S. Supreme Court authorized the death penalty in 1976, with 477, including 13 this year. Illinois adopted a ban on capital punishment earlier this year.
Kitzhaber said he elected not to commute Haugen's sentence to life in prison, nor that of other death row inmates, because he believed the decision was not his alone to make. He said his action Tuesday was intended to "bring about a long overdue reevaluation of our current policy," and during the debate that he hopes will take place in 2013, he will advocate replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Relatives of victims expressed distress over his decision.
"We are again just plain devastated," Ard Pratt, Archer's ex-husband, told the Oregonian. "This is such a miscarriage of justice."
[For the Record, 9:20 a.m. Nov. 23: An earlier version of this post made reference to execution by "legal injection." It should have said "lethal injection."]
-- Kim Murphy in Seattle
Photo: Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber at Tuesday's news conference. Credit: Don Ryan / Associated Press