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Oregon Death Penalty Suspended by Governor

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on November 23, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Oregon’s death penalty is history — again. The state’s Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber announced Tuesday he will not allow any more executions while he’s in office.

Kitzhaber’s announcement followed Monday’s decision by the Oregon Supreme Court to allow a death row inmate to be killed by lethal injection Dec. 6. That inmate, convicted murderer Gary Haugen, has now been given a “temporary reprieve.”

In remarks Tuesday, Kitzhaber, a physician, called Oregon’s death penalty “a perversion of justice” — morally wrong and unjustly administered, The Oregonian reported.

Kitzhaber also cited high costs tied to the death penalty, and said Oregon should look to other states such as Illinois, New Jersey and New Mexico, which have recently turned their backs on capital punishment.

Kitzhaber's move is not the first time Oregon has rejected the death penalty.

Oregon voters outlawed the death penalty in 1964, but reinstated it in 1978, according to The Oregonian.

The Oregon Supreme Court held the death penalty unconstitutional in 1981, but voters again reinstated it in 1984.

Two executions were allowed to proceed during Kitzhaber's prior terms in office, in the mid-'90s. But Kitzhaber told reporters Tuesday he regretted those executions.

"I do not believe that those executions made us safer; and certainly they did not make us nobler as a society," Kitzhaber said, according to The New York Times. "And I simply cannot participate once again in something I believe to be morally wrong."

Kitzhaber said the death penalty would not be enforced "for the duration of my term in office." That means theoretically, any successor to the governor's office could reinstate it.

That's why Kitzhaber on Tuesday also asked state lawmakers to reform Oregon's death penalty system. Proposals to replace Oregon's death penalty will likely be debated in next year's legislative session.

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