Salem Journal Editorial: Haugen's death penalty case becomes political circus

Gary Haugen death-penalty case has turned into a political circus

Mar 16, 2013
It is time to let Gary Haugen die.

His death-penalty case has turned into a political circus that neither serves justice nor compels Oregonians to confront the barbarianism of capital punishment.

The Oregon Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday in the bizarre, long-running case in which Haugen wants his execution to proceed but Gov. John Kitzhaber has stopped it.

In a perverse way, Haugen’s desire to die shows why true lifetime imprisonment should replace capital punishment. Every day on death row is living hell, making execution preferable to Haugen.
The legal issues in this case are for the high court to decide: Does a death-row inmate have the right to reject a gubernatorial reprieve and insist on execution? But from a social and political standpoint, this drama has played on long enough.

There is no reason to prolong the uncertainty of whether Haugen will be executed this year or whether he must await a more amenable governor. That again shows the madness of capital punishment. It is as much a political decision as a judicial decision. It is so replete with appeals and legal uncertainty that an Oregon death-row inmate essentially must volunteer in order to be executed.

Kitzhaber did not commute Haugen’s death sentence; instead he issued a reprieve in late 2011, saying no executions would be conducted on his watch. It was during his previous tenure as governor that Oregon conducted the only two executions — in 1996 and 1997 — since voters in 1984 reinstated the death penalty.

In blocking Haugen’s scheduled execution, Kitzhaber said he had been haunted by his decisions to let those past executions proceed. Frank Thompson, who back then was superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary, also actively disavows the death penalty.

One measurement of capital punishment must be what it does to the people who carry it out: the governor, the prison superintendent, the staff who connect the death-carrying drugs to the death-row inmate via IVs, and those who witness the execution. As a society, we are not just killing a mA morbid irony of capital punishment is that the needles and injection site are fully sterilized. “One reason is the possibility of a last-second stay of execution — it wouldn’t do for the governor to snatch the condemned from the jaws of death, only to have him or her die from an infection,” stated an article in the Fall 2012 edition of Willamette Lawyer.

Indeed, there should be little question that capital punishment is an antiquated and indefensible response to heinous crimes. Advances in forensic investigation have demonstrated that “eye witness” accounts often are inaccurate and that a proportion of men and women sent to death row could later be exonerated by DNA evidence — if they have not yet been executed.

Living examples of mistaken justice came to Salem this month when former death-row inmates Juan Melendez-Colon and Greg Wilhoit, now cleared, visited Willamette University to discuss their inept legal representation and their many years in prison.

That was the discussion Oregonians expected to have when Kitzhaber in 2011 courageously stopped Haugen’s scheduled execution. But the ensuing silence has been deafening.

Kitzhaber and his aides have cited legislators’ perceived lack of interest in sending a death-row repeal to voters. But if this is the moral, legal and economic issue that the governor proclaimed, it deserved his ongoing outspoken efforts regardless of the odds.

Death seems too good for Gary Haugen, who committed brutal murders in 1981 and while in prison in 2003. But there’s no need to prolong the suspense of what lies ahead.

Let the heinous murderer die by the state’s hand.

And let him be the last one in Oregon’s history.

Written by Salem Journal
The original article at has been deleted by the Salem Journal.



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