The exe­cu­tion of a Ore­gon man con­vict­ed of two mur­ders — who has been on death row for some time — will not go for­ward as planned on Decem­ber 6th, Gov­er­nor John Kitzhaber announced this after­noon, invok­ing his author­i­ty under the Beaver State’s Con­sti­tu­tion to block prison offi­cials from putting Gary Hau­gen to death.

But Kitzhaber did­n’t stop there. He also said that he has has decid­ed to impose a mora­to­ri­um on all exe­cu­tions while he remains governor.

His coura­geous action is a major vic­to­ry for civ­il lib­er­ties in the Pacif­ic North­west, one that is deserv­ing of recog­ni­tion and applause.

Speak­ing at a packed news con­fer­ence, Kitzhaber explained that he could not, in good con­science, allow the state he leads to put anoth­er pris­on­er to death on his watch. Here’s an excerpt from the sub­stan­tive, thought­ful remarks he deliv­ered.

The real­i­ty is that Oregon’s death row is an extreme­ly expen­sive life prison term, like­ly sev­er­al times more expen­sive that the life terms of oth­ers who hap­pen to have been sen­tenced to life in prison with­out the pos­si­bil­i­ty of parole — rather than the death penalty.

And while it may be con­ve­nient to blame lengthy and expen­sive death penal­ty tri­als and appeals on inmates “work­ing the sys­tem,” the truth is courts (and soci­ety) con­tin­ue to rein­ter­pret when, how and under what cir­cum­stances it is accept­able for the state to kill some­one. Over time, those options are narrowing.

Courts are apply­ing stricter stan­dards and con­tin­u­al­ly rais­ing the bar for pros­e­cut­ing death penal­ty cas­es. Con­sid­er that it was only six years ago that the U.S. Supreme Court reversed itself and held that it is uncon­sti­tu­tion­al to impose cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment on those under the age of 18. For a state intent on main­tain­ing a death penal­ty, the inevitable result will be big­ger ques­tions, few­er options and high­er costs.

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. 

Empha­sis is ours.

Abo­li­tion­ists in Ore­gon and across the Unit­ed States hailed the news.

“This action, while coura­geous on the part of Gov­er­nor Kitzhaber, also is in line with move­ment across this coun­try for states to either repeal their death penal­ty, lessen the use of the death penal­ty and or cre­ate oppor­tu­ni­ties to study the death penal­ty. Gov­er­nor Kitzhaber has shown great lead­er­ship with this announce­ment,” said Rob Stein­er, Board Chair of Ore­go­ni­ans for Alter­na­tives to the Death Penalty.

We at NPI strong­ly com­mend this deci­sion. State-spon­sored killing is immoral, unjust, and cost­ly. It is a bar­bar­ic prac­tice that needs to end.

We thank Gov­er­nor John Kitzhaber for inter­ven­ing to save the life of Gary Hau­gen and Ore­gon’s oth­er death row inmates. While the mora­to­ri­um announced today does not mean that so-called cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment has been abol­ished, it at least means that the State of Ore­gon won’t be killing any­one in the near future.

We urge the Ore­gon Leg­is­la­ture to join Gov­er­nor Kitzhaber in tak­ing a stand for civ­il lib­er­ties by approv­ing leg­is­la­tion out­law­ing the death penal­ty in Oregon.

POSTSCRIPT: The Eugene Reg­is­ter-Guard has a nice edi­to­r­i­al sup­port­ing Kitzhaber’s deci­sion and call­ing for reform of the crim­i­nal jus­tice system.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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4 replies on “Oregon governor John Kitzhaber announces moratorium on executions”

  1. What a coura­geous, com­pas­sion­ate, dif­fi­cult deci­sion to make. I admire this choice by this governor.

  2. The peo­ple vot­ed for and passed the death penal­ty. Why would a gov­er­nor not do what the peo­ple want?

    1. Because the death penal­ty is immoral and barbaric.

      And because the Eighth Amend­ment to the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion pro­hibits “cru­el and unusu­al pun­ish­ment.” There’s no pun­ish­ment more cru­el than haul­ing an inmate into a win­dow­less room, stick­ing in a nee­dle in his arm, and inject­ing him with a cock­tail of lethal drugs. State-sanc­tioned killing is uncon­sti­tu­tion­al in addi­tion to being immoral. 

      John Kitzhaber is a man of prin­ci­ple who believes, as we do, that exe­cut­ing peo­ple is inhu­mane — peri­od. The death penal­ty can­not be legit­imized by a pub­lic vote.

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