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Tell us more, guv
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, won’t allow any inmates to be executed on his watch. Kitzhaber, elected last November to his third term (and second stint), recently described Oregon’s death penalty system as “broken,” “inequitable” and “compromised.”
Those terms imply certain things about Oregon’s recent experience with capital punishment that, if true, would indeed be cause for citizens to worry.
“Inequitable” suggests that Oregon is executing minorities or some other specific group of death row inmates at a disproportionate rate.
“Broken” and “compromised” indicate that the state has perhaps had to free condemned inmates who were exonerated by DNA or some other indisputable evidence of innocence.
Yet none of these things is true.
In reality, since 1984, when Oregon voters by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent reinstated capital punishment, the state has executed two convicted murderers. Douglas Franklin Wright and Harry Charles Moore were both white men who admitted their guilt and waived their right to appeals beyond those legally required.
Both Wright and Moore were executed during Kitzhaber’s previous tenure as governor.
Admitting that he regretted his decision to not stop either execution, Kitzhaber said he “simply cannot participate once again in something I believe to be morally wrong.”
Kitzhaber certainly has the legal authority to block executions and, in effect, to thwart voters (at least temporarily; he has not commuted any condemned inmate’s sentence).
But Kitzhaber the candidate didn’t say that, if elected, he would reverse his previous stance and stop any scheduled executions.
And that question was posed to him at least once, by the League of Women Voters in April 2010.
Then, after taking office, the governor didn’t express his misgivings about executions even while a judge decided whether death row inmate Gary Haugen, who waived his optional appeals, was mentally competent.
Kitzhaber announced the moratorium on executions only after Haugen was scheduled to die on Dec. 6.
The governor’s timing troubles us.
But we’re also bothered by those misleading charges the governor leveled against Oregon’s death penalty system.
The governor did more than express his personal feelings, which we don’t doubt are sincere.
He also strongly implied that the death penalty has not been applied fairly in Oregon, as voters no doubt expected it would be when they cast their ballots 27 years ago.
Kitzhaber noted that only Wright and Moore, whom he called “volunteers,” have been put to death. Yet surely the governor, who opposes all executions, is not arguing that Oregon is “inequitable” because it has put to death too few people.
Compared with states such as Texas, which has executed more than 400 inmates since 1982, Oregon has been quite circumspect. This is appropriate given the finality of capital punishment.
Perhaps it is time to let voters have another go at capital punishment. We look forward to hearing Kitzhaber elaborate on his strongly worded, but non-specific, criticisms of the law.