Ore. Supreme Court upholds Kitzhaber execution delay

FILE - In this Oct. 7 2011, file photo, death-row inmate Gary Haugen is lead into the Marion County Courthouse, in Salem, Ore. The last execution in Oregon 14 years ago took place just after midnight. Haugen was sentenced to death in 2007 for killing another inmate. At the time Haugen was already serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
FILE - In this Oct. 7 2011, file photo, death-row inmate Gary Haugen is lead into the Marion County Courthouse, in Salem, Ore. The last execution in Oregon 14 years ago took place just after midnight. Haugen was sentenced to death in 2007 for killing another inmate. At the time Haugen was already serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber can delay the lethal injection of a death-row inmate who wants to waive his appeals and speed his execution, the state’s highest court ruled Thursday.

FILE - Oregon Supreme Justice Thomas A. Balmer, center left, asks a question of attorney Harrison Latto, attorney for Gary Haugen during a hearing for the death-row inmate who wants to be executed and the governor, who refuses to let him die, in Eugene on Thursday, March 14, 2013. Gov. John Kitzhaber, who opposes capital punishment, regretted letting two other inmates be put to death and said he won't allow it to happen again. Haugen argues that Kitzhaber exceeded his authority when he issued a temporary reprieve for the two-time murderer in 2011, delaying the execution until the governor leaves office. (AP Photo/The Register-Guard, Chris Pietsch)
FILE – Oregon Supreme Justice Thomas A. Balmer, center left, asks a question of attorney Harrison Latto, attorney for Gary Haugen during a hearing for the death-row inmate who wants to be executed and the governor, who refuses to let him die, in Eugene on Thursday, March 14, 2013. (AP Photo/The Register-Guard, Chris Pietsch)

The Oregon Supreme Court said Kitzhaber did not overstep his power when he granted a reprieve delaying the death sentence of Gary Haugen, who was convicted of two murders.

Kitzhaber opposes the death penalty and intervened weeks before Haugen was scheduled to be executed in 2011. The governor said he refused to allow an execution under a state death-penalty system he views as broken.

Haugen challenged Kitzhaber’s clemency, saying the reprieve was invalid because Haugen refused to accept it. He also argued that it wasn’t actually a reprieve but rather an illegal attempt by the governor to nullify a law he didn’t like. The justices rejected both arguments.

The governor argued that his clemency power is absolute, and nobody — certainly not an inmate on death row — can prevent him from doing what he believes to be in the state’s best interest.

Kitzhaber has urged a statewide vote on abolishing the death penalty, although the Legislature has shown little interest in putting it on the ballot in 2014.

The case involved a sparsely explored area of law — how much power the governor has to reduce, delay or eliminate criminal sentences. The justices had very little precedent to guide their decision, and neither lawyer could point to any other case where an inmate challenged an unconditional reprieve that spared him from the death penalty.

Haugen was sentenced to death along with an accomplice in 2007 for the jailhouse murder of a fellow inmate. At the time, Haugen was serving a life sentence for fatally beating his former girlfriend’s mother in 1981.

Americans and their elected representatives have expressed mixed feelings about the death penalty. Lawmakers abolished capital punishment in New Mexico, New Jersey and Connecticut, but Californians turned down a chance to follow suit at the ballot box last year.

In 2000, then-Gov. George Ryan of Illinois issued a moratorium on the death penalty after numerous condemned inmates were exonerated. The Legislature abolished capital punishment more than a decade later.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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