Saying he "simply cannot participate in something I believe to be morally wrong," Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber on Tuesday declared a moratorium on the death penalty, granting a temporary reprieve for an inmate who has battled in the courts to hasten his own execution.
Saying he “simply cannot participate in something I believe to be morally wrong,” Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber on Tuesday declared a moratorium on the death penalty, 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 served two previous terms and returned for a third in 2010 after a hiatus.
The decision cancels the Dec. 6 execution of 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 had issued a divided opinion clearing the way for Haugen’s death by legal injection, despite objections by the inmate’s former lawyers and others that he was not mentally competent to set aside his appeals.
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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 another.
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.
A total of 34 states (including Washington) have the death penalty, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, and 43 people have been executed this year. Texas has performed the most since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the death penalty constitutional in 1976, with 477, including 13 this year. Illinois adopted a ban on capital punishment earlier this year.
Kitzhaber said he decided 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. During a debate that he hopes will occur in 2013, he said, he will advocate replacing the death penalty with life in prison without 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.”