SALEM -- The Oregon Supreme Court has ruled in favor with Gov. John Kitzhaber, who has halted the execution of death row inmate Gary Haugen as long as he is governor.
The court rejected Haugen's argument that postponing his death was cruel and unusual punishment.
The governor has clemency power in death penalty cases, the court ruled, and there is nothing in the law to allow the recipient of clemency to reject it.
The court did not weigh the merits of Kitzhaber's decision, only whether he had the legal right to make it.
Judges also agreed that having to wait on death row "exacts a toll" on the person awaiting death but the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that uncertain time spent on death row is not cruel and unusual punishment.
Haugen was serving a life sentence for fatally bludgeoning his former girlfriend's mother, Mary Archer, when he was sentenced to death for the 2003 killing of fellow inmate David Polin, who had 84 stab wounds and a crushed skull.
Oregon has executed two men since voters reinstated the death penalty in 1984, one each in 1996 and 1997. Both inmates, like Haugen, had voluntarily given up their appeals. Kitzhaber declined to intervene in their cases, however, citing his oath to uphold the constitution.
But the governor said in 2011 that he's long regretted his decision to allow those executions, and he's come to believe that Oregon voters did not intend to create a death penalty scheme in which the only inmates who are put to death are those who volunteer.
Thursday, he issued the following statement about the Supreme Court decision.
“I am pleased that the Oregon Supreme Court affirmed my constitutional authority to issue a reprieve. I renew my call for a re-evaluation of our current system that embraces capital punishment, which has devolved into an unworkable system that fails to meet the basic standards of justice. I am still convinced that we can find a better solution that holds offenders accountable and keeps society safe, supports the victims of crime and their families and reflects Oregon values.”