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Ore. governor bans executions; condemned inmate gets reprieve

SALEM, Ore. – What was supposed to be Oregon’s first execution in 14 years won’t be taking place -- at least not while Gov. John Kitzhaber is in office.

Calling the death penalty “morally wrong,” the Democratic governor on Tuesday announced a state moratoriumon on executions and granted a reprieve to death-row inmate Gary Haugen.

The twice-convicted murderer was scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection on Dec. 6.

Oregon Dept. of Corrections / AP

Death-row inmate Gary Haugen

Kitzhaber said he has no sympathy or compassion for murderers. But he said Oregon's death penalty system is broken and applied unevenly.

The death penalty has been carried out in Oregon only twice in the last 49 years: Douglas Franklin Wright was executed in 1996 and Harry Charles Moore was put to death in 1997. Both inmates voluntarily waived their appeals and both executions occurred during Kitzhaber's first administration as governor. (Kitzhaber served as the 35th governor of Oregon, from 1995 to 2003. He was re-elected to a nonconsecutive third term in 2010, becoming the state's 37th governor).

"I allowed those sentences to be carried out despite my personal opposition to the death penalty. I was torn between my personal convictions about the morality of capital punishment and my oath to uphold the Oregon constitution," Kitzhaber said.

"They were 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. I do not believe that those executions made us safer; and certainly they did not make us nobler as a society. And I simply cannot participate once again in something I believe to be morally wrong."

Haugen, 49, waived his legal appeals and has been preparing for his execution by lethal injection. Haugen was sentenced to death in 2007 for his part in the the killing four years earlier of David Polin, who was found with 84 stab wounds and a crushed skull in the prison’s band room. At the time of Polin’s death, Haugen was serving a life sentence for fatally beating his ex-girlfriend’s mother in 1981.

Kitzher said that while he had "no sympathy or compassion" for criminals who commit the most heinous of acts, the death penalty is not applied equally.

"Oregonians have a fundamental belief in fairness and justice -- in swift and certain justice. The death penalty as practiced in Oregon is neither fair nor just; and it is not swift or certain," he said. "It is not applied equally to all. It is a perversion of justice that the single best indicator of who will and will not be executed has nothing to do with the circumstances of a crime or the findings of a jury."