Oregon state governor blocks executions and opens door to abolition

Amnesty International has hailed the principled stance of a US state governor who this week imposed a moratorium on executions for the rest of his term in office.Oregon governor John Kitzhaber issued a reprieve to convicted murderer Gary Haugen, who was due to be executed on 6 December after giving up his appeals.Kitzhaber said Oregon’s death penalty was “neither fair nor just” and that he would allow no further executions while he is governor.”This sort of principled stand is something we have seen too little of in the USA as executions there have continued, even as other countries have abandoned this punishment,” said Rob Freer, Amnesty International’s USA researcher.”Oregon’s state legislature should seize the opportunity provided by Governor Kitzhaber and turn this temporary moratorium into permanent abolition.”Governor Kitzhaber announced on 22 November that he was blocking the execution of Gary Haugen, a 49-year-old man facing death by lethal injection after waiving his appeals. A day earlier, the Oregon Supreme Court had ruled that the execution could go forward, narrowly rejecting a petition seeking a new mental competency hearing for Haugen. Haugen was sentenced to death in 2007, along with Jason Van Brumwell, for the murder of fellow inmate David Polin in Oregon State Penitentiary in 2003. Earlier this year, a neuropsychologist assessed Haugen as suffering from a “delusional disorder that makes him incompetent to be executed”.  Oregon has carried out two executions since judicial killing resumed in the USA in 1977 – one in 1996 and one in 1997. Both were executed during Governor Kitzhaber’s first term in office.Governor Kitzhaber said that he had allowed the two earlier executions to go ahead “despite my personal opposition to the death penalty.” “I do not believe that those executions made us safer; and certainly they did not make us nobler as a society. I could not participate once again in something I believe to be morally wrong,” said Kitzhaber.The governor noted that many judges, prosecutors, legislators and victim family members were now in agreement that Oregon’s capital justice system is “broken”.He called on the state legislature to “bring potential reforms before the 2013 legislative session”, adding that he was “convinced we can find a better solution” to violent crime that promotes public safety and assists victims and their families. Governor Kitzhaber said that he had chosen not to commute Gary Haugen’s death sentence, or any of the other 36 inmates on the state’s death row, because “the policy of this state is not mine alone to decide”. “What Governor Kitzhaber has done is entirely consistent with the abolitionist spirit of international human rights law and the UN General Assembly’s repeated calls for a global moratorium – other US states should follow his example” said Rob Freer.Governor Kitzhaber was elected to a third four-year term as governor in 2010, taking office in January 2011. His term runs until January 2015.