Marion County DA backs Gary Haugen's argument to override Kitzhaber on execution

Haugen's argument to override Kitzhaber on execution

Haugen has asked the Marion County Circuit Court to issue a new death warrant, saying he doesn't accept the reprieve, making it "legally ineffective."

The Oregonian’s continuing coverage of Gary Haugen, an Oregon death row prisoner, wants to initiate the execution process. Gov. John Kitzhaber blocked his execution and all others in Oregon.

Marion County District Attorney Walt Beglau said Monday that the two-time killer has a viable argument.

"That's the legal issue that needs to be explored in a court of law," Beglau said in a telephone interview. "That really is the central issue."

Haugen, 50, is challenging Kitzhaber's decision last November to indefinitely postpone his death sentence. Kitzhaber, who is personally opposed to capital punishment, announced he would allow no executions while he's governor, saying Oregon's death penalty system is costly and flawed. The governor urged Oregonians to debate whether the state should retain capital punishment.

Beglau said he disagrees with Kitzhaber’s decision and his criticism of the system, but his plan not to defend the reprieve in court is based on his reading of the law.

"We certainly respect the governor and his authority," Beglau said. "We simply disagree. So I'm not in a position to be able to defend that legal position."

The Oregon Justice Department will defend the reprieve. A Justice spokesman did not comment on Beglau's concerns, but insisted that the governor acted within his constitutional authority.

In a filing last week, the department acknowledged its difference of opinion with Marion County prosecutors.

The Justice Department has requested that a Marion County circuit judge recognize Kitzhaber as a legal party to Haugen's criminal case so it can defend the reprieve, noting that "it appears that the district attorney intends to appear but not defend the Governor's actions."

The circumstances are unique: The governor would almost never have a role in a criminal case -- except in cases where he exercised his constitutional authority. Also, never before has an Oregon governor halted an execution against the wishes of the inmate to be executed.

Similar circumstances across the country are tough to find. In Illinois, Gov. Jim Edgar in 1996 commuted the death sentence of Guinevere Garcia who had opposed clemency requests by anti-death penalty groups. But she didn't oppose the commutation to life in prison once the governor granted it, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The center collects information about the death penalty and has a board of directors with members opposed to capital punishment.

When Haugen first challenged the reprieve, legal experts, including at least one death penalty supporter, said they doubt a court would overturn the governor's reprieve, instead reaffirming his constitutional authority.

A date has not been set for oral arguments on the issue.

By Helen Jung, The Oregonian
Follow @helenjung
© 2012 All rights reserved.



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