Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber Tuesday blocked the execution of a death row inmate and declared the state capital punishment-free as long as he's governor.
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 news conference in Salem.
The Democratic governor issued the statement after twice-convicted murderer Gary Haugen was sentenced to death on Dec. 6 under state's Supreme Court orders. Haugen, convicted of killings in 1981 and 2003, had waived his rights to legal appeal, Reuters reported.
A former emergency room physician, Kitzhaber allowed two executions to take place during his first term in the 1990s. 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, he said.
With 37 inmates on death row, Kitzhaber is yet to change their sentence. The policy of this state on capital punishment is not mine alone to decide, he said. But he hoped his move would prompt state policy reforms.
Kitzhaber called the state's death penalty system, expensive and unworkable. In my mind, it is a perversion of justice, he said.
The governor said executions don't bring security or integrity to society. I simply cannot participate once again in something I believe to be morally wrong, he said.
The Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center says 16 U.S. states do not have death penalty. Oregon is the latest to join the list of states which dissuades capital punishment. Death penalty is no longer a sentencing option in Illinois, New Jersey and New Mexico.
The move does not come without any opposition. Clackamas County Attorney Greg Horner has disputed Kitzhaber's decision saying, The answer is not to scrap the system.
Steve Doell, president of Crime Victims United of Oregon, says the move is a slap in the face of the will of the Oregon voter, as a ballot initiative reinstated the death penalty in the state.
A 2010 survey conducted by Lake Research Partners revealed that a majority of registered voters supported alternatives to death penalty. Forty-three convicts have been executed across the U.S. this year.