Just weeks before Oregon was set to carry out their first execution in more than a decade, Governor John Kitzhaber announced a ban on executions in an emotional news conference yesterday in Salem.
“It is time for Oregon to consider a different approach,” Kitzhaber said in a prepared statement. “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.”
Kitzhaber said it was not sympathy for the inmates that motivated his decision, but policy and a broken system that “fails to meet the basic standards of justice.”
“The reality is that, in Oregon, our death sentence is essentially an extremely expensive life prison term,” Kitzhaber said. “Far more expensive than the terms of others who are sentenced to life in prison without parole, rather than to death row.”
The announcement comes as the state was readying its death chamber for the lethal injection of Gary Haugen, who had waived his appeals and volunteered for death. The governor said he will issue a reprieve for Haugen and will do the same for any other condemned inmates facing execution during his tenure in office.
The state has only executed two people since voters approved the death penalty in 1984, both under Kitzhaber’s leadership.
“They were among 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,” Kitzhaber said. “Fourteen years ago, I struggled with the decision to allow an execution to proceed. Over the years I have thought if faced with the same set of circumstances I would make a different decision. That time has come.”