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.
What a courageous, compassionate, difficult decision to make. I admire this choice by this governor.
The people voted for and passed the death penalty. Why would a governor not do what the people want?
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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