Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has declared the abolishment of the death penalty for the remainder of his term in office.
Kitzhaber announced on Tuesday that he is morally opposed to capital punishment and has deep regrets for allowing two men to be executed in the 1990s. While Kitzhaber, a former physician, has always been opposed to the death penalty citing his doctor’s pledge to “do no harm,” he approved the execution of the two men because he believed the duty of the governor was to enact the will of the people.
The moratorium will immediately affect a twice-convicted murderer, Gary Haugen, who was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection in two weeks. There are 37 other inmates currently on death row in the state.
The reprieve will last through his term which ends in January 2015. He has not stated whether or not he will seek reelection.
In the past, Oregon has wavered on the death penalty, going back and forth from legalizing and prohibiting it. Most recently Oregon voters legalized it in 1984 with a 56-44 vote.
"I simply cannot participate once again in something that I believe to be morally wrong," he announced in an emotional press conference in his office. He urges the government to find a different way to deal with convicted criminals. He believes the current system is expensive, arbitrary, and “fails to meet the basic standards of justice.”
"I do not believe those executions made us safer. Certainly I don't believe they made us nobler as a society."
His decision was met with opposition.
Josh Marquis, Clatsop County district attorney, criticized the governor and said that Kitzhaber “showed more moral courage when he allowed the last two executions to occur despite his opposition,” according to Oregon Live.
"When you're the governor of the state and the law is X ... it is your duty to carry it out.”
The families of Haugen’s victims are devastated.
"This is such a miscarriage of justice," Ard Pratt said to Oregon Live. "This whole thing is just wrong." Haugen beat Pratt’s ex-wife to death in 1981, when he was just 19 years old, with his fists, baseball bat, and a roofing hammer. He claimed it was out of revenge because the ex-wife told her daughter to abort a baby she had with Haugen.
He was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.
In 2003, Haugen stabbed another inmate 84 times and crushed his skull. The jury sent him to death row.
"Unquestionably, this decision will delay the closure that they deserve," Kitzhaber said about the families. "My heart goes out to them."
The governor, however, made it clear that he did not come to this decision lightly or out of compassion for Haugen and other inmates. Instead, he said that the death penalty is not handed down fairly. Some inmates who are serving life have committed similar crimes to those on death row. Also, he criticized the fact that the current system is expensive because most inmates fight their sentences in long and drawn out legal battles.
The governor continued, saying that Oregon should fully adopt the practice of life without the possibility of parole instead of the death penalty. Currently, Oregon only executes inmates who waive their legal appeals. So, essentially, only inmates who choose the death penalty are executed.
Steven Gorham, Haugen’s attorney, told reporters that his client would likely be disappointed by the governor’s decision because he chose execution as “a political protest and a path to freedom from the confines of death row.”