Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Kitzhaber: 'I Will Not Allow Further Executions To Take Place'

Governor John Kitzhaber's death penalty announcement was somber. Courtesy Oregon Legislative Media
Governor John Kitzhaber's death penalty announcement was somber. Courtesy Oregon Legislative Media
Gary Haugen was scheduled to die on December 6. Photo courtesy of Oregon Department of Corrections
Gary Haugen was scheduled to die on December 6. Photo courtesy of Oregon Department of Corrections

SALEM, Ore. - Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber made a stunning announcement Tuesday: He's calling off the execution of two-time murderer Gary Haugen , which was scheduled for two weeks from Tuesday.

In a somber press conference in Salem, Kitzhaber went even further: He said as long as he's governor, no inmate will be put to death in Oregon.

Gary Haugen had dropped all remaining appeals and was scheduled to die by lethal injection on December 6th. That execution is now canceled.

Governor John Kitzhaber says it wasn't a decision he made lightly.

"It is time for this state to consider a different approach," he said. "I refuse to be a part of a compromised and inequitable system any longer, and I will not allow further executions to take place while I am governor."

Since 1962, just two inmates have been put to death in Oregon. Like Haugen, both had dropped all of their appeals. And in each case — in 1996 and '97 — the governor who allowed the execution to proceed was John Kitzhaber.

The Democrat says he struggled with the decision at that time and came to regret his choice. But Kitzhaber says that while he's putting this and any other pending executions on hold, he's not commuting anyone's sentence.

"I did not do that because the policy that our state adopts concerning capital punishment is not mine alone to make," Kitzhaber said. "It is a decision for the voters to make. My hope — and indeed my intention — in taking this action today is to bring about a long due reevaluation of our current policy and our current system of capital punishment."

The decision drew swift criticism from supporters of the death penalty. Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis took issue with Kitzhaber's characterization of Oregon's capital punishment system as being "neither fair nor just."

"I find that pretty offensive," he says.

Marquis says Kitzhaber is overturning the will of the voters, who reinstated the death penalty with a 1984 ballot measure. And Marquis says the governor is also ignoring decisions made by those most closely involved in capital punishment cases.

"Prosecutors in this state who go through the process like I've done, not very often fortunately, to decide whether to seek the death penalty — and then, even more significantly, 12 jurors make that decision. It's not an easy one to make," Marquis says. "They're not doing it capriciously. They are looking at the individual facts of the case."

But Kitzhaber's move drew praise from death penalty opponents, especially his call for the legislature to take up the issue in 2013.

"I think his criticisms are right on the mark. We have a dysfunctional system," says Jeff Ellis, Director of the Oregon Capital Resource Center. "It's important to discuss and discern whether those flaws can be fixed. I think not, but I welcome the discussion."

For convicted killer Gary Haugen, it means he won't be put to death in two weeks. Attorney Steven Gorham is part of Haugen's legal team.

"I'm sure Gary is probably not very happy right now," he says. "He was committed to exercising what he thought were his rights. So I'm sure he's disappointed."

Haugen will remain on death row along with 36 other inmates.

For the Oregon Department of Corrections, it means the end to a months-long build-up to the state's first execution since 1997. The cash-strapped agency had spent more than $40,000 preparing to carry out the lethal injection.

On the Web:

Gov. Kitzhaber's press release:

Gary Haugen's case summary:

Narrated tour of Oregon's execution chamber:

Death penalty in Oregon:

Copyright 2011 Northwest News Network

Copyright 2011 Northwest News Network

Chris Lehman graduated from Temple University with a journalism degree in 1997. He landed his first job less than a month later, producing arts stories for Red River Public Radio in Shreveport, Louisiana. Three years later he headed north to DeKalb, Illinois, where he worked as a reporter and announcer for NPR–affiliate WNIJ–FM. In 2006 he headed west to become the Salem Correspondent for the Northwest News Network.