In an announcement that has angered many Oregonians, Gov. John Kitzhaber announced Tuesday that Oregon will not allow the execution of any inmate during his term. Citing his position as a doctor with an active license, Kitzhaber says that his decision was based on what he felt to be morally wrong. Those feelings perhaps stem from a sense of guilt after the governor previously issued the execution of two inmates.
There are quite a few things wrong in Kitzhaber’s irresponsible decision to grant a reprieve to death row inmates, which at this point specifically refers to Gary Haugen, who was scheduled to be executed next month after he was convicted for the murder of a fellow inmate.
For one, citing his medical license for a reason to grant a reprieve in Haugen’s execution is petty at best. It is downright irresponsible and should lead to an immediate vote of no confidence due to Kitzhaber’s inability to carry out the will of the people. The people of Oregon called for the death penalty to be reinstated in 1984.
This is not to say that Kitzhaber doesn’t have a right to believe that the death penalty is wrong. By agreeing to run for governor of a state that has reinstated the death penalty, Kitzhaber should allow the task to take place.
He has done this twice before — because that was what residents opted for. While it is his executive power as a governor to grant such a reprieve, his holdout is backed by nothing but his personal feelings on the matter — without first consulting the people he was supposed to represent.
That’s no better than if a new manager was voted in by his employees on the promise of no layoffs, and then immediately laid off the entire weapons division because he has personal holdouts against violence.
Josh Marquis, district attorney for Clastop County, summarized it perfectly. “When you’re the governor of the state and the law is X… it is your duty to carry it out,” Marquis said.
What Kitzhaber has done is misrepresent residents of Oregon and misuse his executive power for personal relief.
However, it would be safe to say that Haugen, the inmate saved by Kitzhaber’s decree, must have been eternally grateful for having his death sentence postponed — except he wasn’t.
Haugen, in fact, was entirely livid in the governor’s decision to grant him such a reprieve, citing that it was a violation of his constitutional rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.
“You don’t bring a guy to the table twice and then just stop (the execution),” Haugen said in a recent interview with the Associated Press.
In the days since hearing the news that his sentence was to be put on hold until Kitzhaber either changes his mind or leaves office, Haugen has been slamming the governor and gathering a legal team to see if there was any way to file a complaint against the cowardly move the governor had pulled.
This is compounded by the fact that Haugen voluntarily opted for the death penalty.
According to Oregon’s capital punishment statutes, Oregon cannot execute anyone who has not waived their legal right to appeal. As such, since Oregon reinstated the death penalty, only two inmates have been executed, both in the late 1990s.
Haugen had volunteered to be the third and was put on death row after he was convicted of murdering a fellow inmate while serving a life sentence for the murder of his ex-girlfriend’s mother. According to Haugen’s attorney, Steven Gorham, Haugen had chosen the death penalty in political protest of how Oregon’s justice system deals out the death penalty in addition to his desire to escape the confines of a life sentence.
This has now been denied to Haugen. Since Kitzhaber has issued a reprieve, if he leaves office Haugen will once again be thrown into the hands of the Oregon justice system that will determine his fate.
The cruelty of the death penalty is debatable. However, leaving an inmate uncertain of his execution is psychological torture, something which Haugen hopes his team of legal experts will be able to prove as they fight for his right to be executed.
In regard to Haugen’s request, if an inmate wishes to die for his crimes, let the inmate die for them.
It might be time for Oregon’s Legislature to reform the voluntary execution part of its statute. And in response to Kitzhaber’s blatant disregard for his duties as governor and elected representative of the people of his state, he has made it clear that he is unable to carry out the will of his people.
He needs to either step up and do what he was elected to do or step down so someone more capable can take charge.James Wang is a history freshman and may be reached at [email protected].