Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber said this week that he will halt the execution of a death row inmate scheduled for next month and will allow no more executions in the state during his term. “It is time for Oregon to consider a different approach,” Governor Kitzhaber told reporters. “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.”
Oregon is one of at least seven states that allow the death penalty but have not used it in more than a decade. The state’s last execution was in 1997. Both of the two people executed in Oregon since the death penalty was enacted in 1984 waived their appeals and “volunteered” for execution.
Governor Kitzhaber presided over both executions. “I do not believe that those executions made us safer,” he said this week. “Certainly I don’t believe they made us more noble as a society.” The governor granted a temporary reprieve to Gary Haugen, another volunteer scheduled to be put to death next month.
Noting the length of time many inmates spend on death row, often more than 20 years, Governor Kitzhaber said Oregon had an “unworkable system that fails to meet basic standards of justice.” He said there was a wide sense the death penalty process was flawed but that the state had “done nothing; we have avoided the question.” He asked legislators to address reforms and urged a statewide debate about the death penalty.
Governor Kitzhaber said his decision was based on policy views and noted he had taken an oath as a physician to “never do harm.”
Illinois, New Jersey, and New Mexico recently abolished the death penalty because of similar concerns about its flawed administration and lack of reliability. New York’s death penalty statute was struck down as unconstitutional in 2004 and has not been reinstated.