Twice, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has found himself torn between his physician’s oath to do no harm and his governor’s oath to uphold the state constitution. He allowed executions in 1996 and 1997, but 14 years later, as a third inmate volunteered for death, Kitzhaber’s personal convictions and frustration with the state’s capital punishment system won out, The Oregonian reports. Yesterday, he placed a moratorium on executions, stopped the Dec. 6 execution of Gary Haugen, and urged Oregonians to “find a better solution” to a system that he said is arbitrary, expensive and “fails to meet basic standards of justice.”
Oregon becomes the latest of five states to abolish or back away from the death penalty. New York’s highest court ruled the death penalty statute unconstitutional in 2004. New Jersey repealed its death penalty law in 2007. New Mexico followed suit two years later. Illinois abolished it earlier this year. “In my mind, it is a perversion of justice,” Kitzhaber told a news conference. “I refuse to be a part of this compromised and inequitable system any longer and I will not allow further executions while I am governor.” Josh Marquis, Clatsop County district attorney, criticized Kitzhaber. The governor showed more moral courage when he allowed the last two executions to occur despite his opposition, Marquis said. “When you’re the governor of the state and the law is X [ ] it is your duty to carry it out,” he said.