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OR Governor Kitzhaber Issues Death Penalty Reprieve, Will Not Execute Any Inmate During His Term

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, M.D., in an announcement today at the state capital, said he will put a temporary reprieve on executions in the state, including the pending execution of Gary Haugen, convicted of two murders in 1981 and 2003. The governor, in an unexpected addendum to his announcement regarding Haugen, also said he will not sign any death warrants while in office.

Oregon voters re-instituted the death penalty in 1984 and has executed only two inmates, both “volunteers” who gave up their appeal rights, since then. Both executions were on Governor Kitzhaber’s watch; he served from 1993 to 2003.

“It is time for Oregon to consider a different approach,” Gov. Kitzhaber, a Democrat elected last fall, said in remarks delivered in Salem on Tuesday afternoon. “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.”

Kitzhaber, in today’s announcement, provided personal reflection on his earlier decisions to execute two men.

“They were the most agonizing and difficult decisions I have made as governor and I have revisited and questioned them over and over again during the past 14 years,” Gov. Kitzhaber said. “I do not believe that those executions made us safer; and certainly they did not make us nobler as a society. And I simply cannot participate once again in something I believe to be morally wrong.”

No commutations were issued today to specific inmates. Haugen’s reprieve is temporary. Kitzhaber called on the Oregon legislature to act on a system he called “broken.”

Kitzhaber said while he did not intend to go against the will of the voters, he did not think the voters intended a system in which the actual sentence was never carried out.

He said he hoped Oregonians would reevaluate the current policy on capital punishment.

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