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December 30, 2011

Might some death penalty supporters be pleased Oregon's Governor blocked Gary Haugen's execution?

The question in the title of this post was my first thought upon reading this new local article headlined "Gary Haugen describes life on death row; He slams governor for granting reprieve."  (Hat tip: How Appealing.)  Here are excerpts:

Oregon's best-known death row inmate is mired in a familiar rut as he awaits a new year. Gary Haugen says each day at the Oregon State Penitentiary plays out in repetitive fashion, like a darker version of the movie "Groundhog Day."

He pins much of the blame for his fate on Gov. John Kitzhaber who canceled his scheduled Dec. 6 execution. "I woke up on the seventh (of December) and I just felt like ---- man," the 49-year-old inmate said in a recent interview with the Statesman Journal, "this is surreal. This is like 'Groundhog Day,' man. I'm Bill Murray, and he's God."...

For Haugen, death row is a grim reality, with no end in sight. He is locked down in a single cell for nearly 23 hours a day. Haugen doesn't know how long he will languish on "the row."

"I waived all my appeals, so I'm just stuck in limbo," he said. The twice-convicted killer continues to criticize Kitzhaber for foiling his bid to die by lethal injection. Kitzhaber did not commute Haugen's death sentence. He imposed what he called a temporary reprieve.

Haugen rips Kitzhaber for subverting the will of Oregon voters, who reinstated capital punishment in 1984, and for taking away his right to relinquish his appeals and be executed. "If you can't do the will of the people, then get out of the way," he said, referring to Kitzhaber.

Haugen has been on death row since 2007 for the 2003 fatal beating and stabbing of inmate David Polin. He had been serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole for the 1981 beating death of his ex-girlfriend's mother, Mary Archer, of Portland.

The Oregon Supreme Court upheld Haugen's conviction and death sentence in November 2010. Haugen then wrote a series of letters to court officials expressing his frustration about the justice system and stating his desire to waive his future appeals and proceed with his execution....

"I'm just so nauseated with the system that I refuse to participate in this anymore," he said in June. "Believe me, it's not an easy call by any means, but it's one I'm willing to make."

Talking about his topsy-turvy case this month, Haugen again cited his contempt for the legal system as the primary motivation for dropping his appeals and seeking to be put to death. He downplayed death row's extreme isolation and dreary routines as factors. "Look, I never said I couldn't clock the time," he said. "I just said, 'I'm sick and tired of participating under this system.' " He added: "I've been doing this (incarceration) for 30 years. I can do this until stars burn out. That's all I know. But I just said, 'I choose not to.' "....

Haugen subsequently was found competent to drop his appeals, putting the Dec. 6 execution on track. In stopping what would have been Oregon's first execution in 14 years, Kitzhaber said at a Nov. 22 news conference that he has long regretted allowing two executions to go forward, in 1996 and 1997, during his first term as governor.

Asserting that Oregon's death penalty system is "broken" and "a perversion of justice," Kitzhaber declared that he would allow no executions during the remainder of his current term. The Democratic governor called for a statewide debate about capital punishment, and he vowed to ask lawmakers to "bring potential reforms before the 2013 Legislature."

Haugen slams Kitzhaber for waiting until two weeks before the scheduled execution to act on his conscience and for putting off potential capital punishment reforms until 2013. "If you're saying the system is broken, how are you going to allow individuals to sit back and litigate in a broken system?" he asked, referring to the 36 other Oregon inmates on death row who are pursuing appeals.

I assume at least a few (some? many?) death penalty supporters are not generally pleased when an inmate's execution takes place only because the inmate himself has expressed an interest in dying. (After all, one hears relatively few calls for helping those on death row commit suicide.)  Consequently, perhaps a few (some? many?) capital punishment supporters may be pleased that multiple murderer Gary Haugen is not getting his death wish, and that he is pretty grumpy about the limbo in which Oregon's Governor has now placed him.  

I certainly have little sympathy for Haugen's belly-aching, and I cannot help but think a kind of through-the-looking-glass kind of justice has now been achieved in this case.  I am also wondering if refusing to execute a murderer like Haugen who wants to die is a perverse way to make both death penalty abolitionists and death penalty supporters pleased with the operation of our legal system. 

December 30, 2011 at 02:43 PM | Permalink


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This is an empirical Eighth Amendment question. Which is crueler, the death penalty or LWOP? One way to answer that question is to offer inmates the choice. LWOP condemns the person to the routine described, plus the agonies of the way that 90% of us will die, slow, painful, and humiliating, wearing diapers, needing our rears wiped by illegal aliens.

The case also illustrates the absolute immunity that would have been conferred by LWOP, in that he killed an inmate, after conviction for murder. The death penalty is the sole remedy.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 30, 2011 4:21:54 PM

Actually, death penalty supporters really shouldn't be pleased. There is a victim's widow who has had the rug cruelly pulled out from under her.

There are a lot of things to be irked about as a result of Kitzhaber's decision in addition to his moral preening and the utter lack of logic to his defense of his decision. One of these is the ridiculousness of this idea about having a great debate over capital punishment. The execution of a guilty murderer should not be that big a deal, even if you oppose capital punishment. That it is, in my mind, signals to me that capital punishment is in trouble here in the US. The sad thing is--it really is nothing but squeamishness masquerading as thoughtfulness. There really isn't much to say, intellectually speaking, about the death penalty--either you think that for deterrence reasons and/or flat-out justice reasons that we should execute killers or you don't. And if you don't, either you think that capital punishment is this big huge stain on our society, or you put these things into proper perspective--by no means is the execution of a guilty murderer really anything to get worked up about. Of course what IS something to get worked up about is the mockery of the justice system that Kitzhaber has made. He has earned the white-hot hatred of Haugen's victims' families and all the other families. The gentleman that called him a coward was a lot more polite than I would have been.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 30, 2011 4:42:06 PM

Ohio had a condemned inmate attempt suicide shortly before the needle.

He was rushed to the hospital so that he would not die from the attempt ... then executed shortly after recovery.

Posted by: Docile Jim Brady | Dec 31, 2011 10:27:14 AM

nothing unusual about that docile! only in america can you find 10's of THOUSANDS of signs warning drivers of BUMPS in the road....when a intelligent govt would FIX the damn bumps!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jan 1, 2012 12:30:55 AM

(1) "The Oregon Supreme Court upheld Haugen's conviction and death sentence in November 2010."
(2) "[Governor Kitzhaber] imposed what he called a temporary reprieve."
(3) "Asserting that Oregon's death penalty system is "broken" and "a perversion of justice," Kitzhaber declared that he would allow no executions during the remainder of his current term."

I know not the grounds for impeachment in the beaver state, but given the Governor's heavy-handed autocracy and his problem with relevancy—Haugen's conviction is unassailable, yet he disallows the sentence due to the "broken" system—Oregonians would be well-served to investigate.

Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 3, 2012 1:45:52 PM

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