Oregon governor blocks executions for rest of term

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber said "it is time for Oregon to consider a different approach" on the death penalty.

Story highlights

  • Gov. John Kitzhaber halts the execution of a death row inmate
  • He says he believes the death penalty to be "morally wrong"
  • Oregon last executed someone in 1997, when Kitzhaber was governor
  • 16 U.S. states do not have the death penalty
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber blocked the execution of a death row inmate on Tuesday and said no more executions will take place in the state as long as he is governor.
He issued a temporary reprieve in the case of Gary Haugen, who was reportedly scheduled to be put to death next month.
"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," he said in a statement.
Oregon has 37 inmates on death row, some of whom have been there for more than 20 years. Kitzhaber did not commute their sentences, he said, because: "The policy of this state on capital punishment is not mine alone to decide." He urged lawmakers to bring potential reforms before the 2013 legislative session.
The Democratic governor called the state's death penalty system, as it is now, "expensive and unworkable."
Not counting Oregon, 16 U.S. states do not have the death penalty, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit group. Illinois banned it this year.
Oregon voted to reinstate the death penalty in 1984, and since then has put two people to death -- in 1996 and 1997. Both executions were carried out on inmates who had waived their rights to appeal and took place during Kitzhaber's first term.
"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. 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," he said.
Haugen, a twice-convicted murder, was scheduled to die on December 6, according to The Oregonian. He had similarly waived his rights to appeal.
A 2010 national poll of registered voters conducted by Lake Research Partners showed growing support for alternatives to the death penalty, compared with previous polls.
A clear majority of voters (61%) would choose a punishment other than the death penalty for murder, including life with no possibility of parole and with restitution to the victim's family (39%), life with no possibility of parole (13%) or life with the possibility of parole (9%).
So far this year, 43 inmates have been executed in the United States, compared with 46 in all of 2010. Nationally, some 3,200 inmates await execution.