PORTLAND — Gov. John Kitzhaber said Friday that he won't OK the execution of death-row inmate Gary Haugen, even if the Oregon Supreme Court rules that he can't force the inmate to accept a reprieve.
Haugen, a two-time murderer, wants to be executed, but the governor has blocked it on moral grounds.
The high court heard arguments in the standoff Thursday and was expected to issue a ruling by year end.
Kitzhaber briefly discussed the case with Oregon Public Broadcasting before the City Club of Portland, saying he was confident the court will determine the state Constitution gives him the authority to issue a reprieve even if Haugen doesn't want it.
Kitzhaber said that with the possibility of a court defeat, he would not commute the sentence but that "I will not execute him, either."
He said that governors generally get a call from the warden shortly before executions, asking whether there is a reason an execution should not take place.
"If they call me, I will say, 'Yes, there is a reason this execution should not be carried out.' "
It was unclear what the warden would do next. In a follow-up interview, Kitzhaber spokesman Tim Raphael said he would not speculate.
In the 1990s, during his first stint as governor, Kitzhaber twice answered no to the question of whether there was a reason to stop an execution, decisions he says he has come to regret. "I do not think the state is better off, safer or more just because we made those decisions," he said.
Haugen's attorney, Harrison Latto, said in a phone interview that Kitzhaber would be violating his oath of office if he took such a stand after a court defeat. "And the superintendent (of the Oregon State Penitentiary) would be risking be held in contempt of court," he added. "Because I'm assuming at that point, there would be a death warrant directing the superintendent to carry out the execution."
Before introducing the topic, host David Miller played an audio clip from Haugen's recent interview with OPB in which the inmate said a reprieve should be a gift. "What he did to me was not an act of grace; it's not a gift," Haugen said. "He used a reprieve to sit back and to nullify my ability to exercise my constitutional rights."
Asked for a response, Kitzhaber said: "I have no response to Gary Haugen; this isn't really about Gary Haugen. It's about the larger policy of capital punishment in the state of Oregon."