Gov. John Kitzhaber
Gov. John Kitzhaber
SALEM — A coalition opposing the death penalty says Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber used his powers appropriately when he declared a moratorium on executions last year.

The question arose last week when Circuit Court Judge Timothy Alexander ruled that an Oregon death row inmate can refuse the reprieve given by the governor.  

Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, which includes leaders of the Archdiocese of Portland, expressed disappointment with Alexander's decision and predicted it would be overturned on appeal to a higher court.

Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty advocates for life without the possibility of parole as a means of keeping the public safe and dealing with those convicted of aggravated murder.

"As a public policy, the death penalty fails on the basis that money is spent with the expectation that some good will be derived by the citizens of the state," says Ron Steiner, the organization's chairman and a member of Queen of Peace Parish in Salem. "There is no public good derived from an execution. The death penalty is a failed public policy and should be voted out by the people."

When Kitzhaber said he would not allow executions on his watch, he also called for a “long overdue debate on the death penalty” and urged the Legislature and the people to fix it.

"When all the facts are known, it becomes difficult to defend the death penalty system in Oregon," Steiner says.

Death row inmate Gary Haugen, slated to die just weeks after Kitzhaber's dramatic announcement, says he still wants to waive his appeals and be executed. Judge Alexander, though troubled by the death penalty, sided with Haugen, citing precedent.  

Harrison Latto, the attorney representing Haugen, said clemency is "an act of grace or favor" that can be rejected. Alexander agreed.

The governor's spokeswoman Amy Wojcicki told the Oregonian that Kitzhaber's office is confident that his authority will be upheld.

In 2003, Haugen was serving a life sentence for the 1981 murder of his former girlfriend's mother when he killed a fellow inmate. That second murder earned the death penalty.

Kitzhaber was applauded by Archbishop John Vlazny last year when he announced the ban. The governor said he has no sympathy for Haugen, but sees the death penalty laws as compromised.

Haugen is one of 37 men on Oregon's death row. Kitzhaber sounded last fall as if he wished he had established the ban 16 years ago, before the executions of Douglas Wright and Harry Moore in 1996 and 1997. Like Haugen, the two men refused to continue legal appeals to stay alive.

"I do not believe those executions made us safer," Kitzhaber said during a press conference. "Certainly I don't believe they made us nobler as a society. And I simply cannot participate once again in something I believe to be morally wrong."

Oregon voters have gone back and forth on the death penalty, most recently legalizing it in 1984.

An editorial in the Oregonian affirmed Judge Alexander's decision, urging Kitzhaber to nix the appeal and let Haugen get what he wants and deserves, in the paper's view. The editorial urged Kitzhaber to instead make a case to the Legislature and the people to overturn capital punishment.