NOVEMBER 22, 2011, 5:34 P.M. ET
SALEM, Ore.—Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber on Tuesday imposed a moratorium on the
death penalty for the remainder of his term, saying he is morally opposed to
capital punishment and has long regretted allowing two men to be executed in the
Mr. Kitzhaber's term ends in January 2015. He has not said whether he would
run for re-election.
The Democratic governor's decision gives a temporary reprieve to a
twice-convicted murderer who was scheduled to die by lethal injection in two
weeks, along with 36 others on death row. It makes Oregon the fifth state to
halt executions since 2007.
Mr. Kitzhaber said he has repeatedly questioned and revisited his decisions
to allow convicted murderers Douglas Wright and Harry Moore to be executed in
1996 and 1997.
"I do not believe that those executions made us safer, and certainly they did
not make us nobler as a society," Mr. Kitzhaber said. "And I simply cannot
participate once again in something I believe to be morally wrong."
Mr. Kitzhaber is a former emergency-room doctor who still retains an active
physician license with the Oregon Medical Board, and his opposition to the death
penalty has been well-known. He was elected last year to an unprecedented third
term as governor after eight years away from public office.
Oregon has a complex history with capital punishment. Voters have outlawed it
twice and legalized it twice, and the state Supreme Court struck it down once.
Voters most recently legalized the death penalty in 1984. Since then, two men
have been executed, both of whom voluntarily gave up their appeals during Mr.
Kitzhaber's first administration.
Prison officials had been preparing for the Dec. 6 execution of Gary Haugen,
who also had waived appeals. Mr. Haugen was serving a life sentence for fatally
bludgeoning his former girlfriend's mother when he was sentenced to death for
the 2003 killing of a fellow inmate, who had 84 stab wounds and a crushed
Mr. Kitzhaber said he had no sympathy or compassion for murderers but
Oregon's death penalty was "an expensive and unworkable system that fails to
meet basic standards of justice."
Over a three-decade political career, Mr. Kitzhaber has built a reputation
for charting his own course, sometimes to the frustration of fellow Democrats
and others to the chagrin of legislative Republicans.
Mr. Kitzhaber's moratorium means Oregon joins, at least temporarily, four
other states that have halted executions, according to the Death Penalty
Information Center. Illinois this year outlawed the death penalty after the
discovery of wrongful convictions. New Mexico voters abolished it in 2009, two
years after New Jersey's Legislature and governor did the same. A New York
appeals court struck down a portion of the death-penalty statute.