Despite advocacy from former Oregon Supreme Court chief justices and administrators of the Department of Corrections, a ballot measure to repeal Oregon's death penalty seems unlikely until at least 2016. A legislative resolution by Rep. Mitch Greenlick to put the issue on the ballot next year died in committee.
Meanwhile, all that stands between the execution of convicted killer Gary Haugen and lethal injection is Governor Kitzhaber, who has refused to preside over any executions during his term in office. Haugen is pursuing legal action to allow his execution to proceed, despite an Oregon constitutional provision giving a governor sole authority over clemency decisions.
Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty staged a forum at Willamette University last week that attracted more than 200 people and featured an address by retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul DeMuniz. He said the death penalty doesn't work as a deterrent to violent crime, creates enormous legal complexities and costs Oregonians more than housing convicted felons for a life sentence.
Aliza Kaplan, a Lewis & Clark Law School professor, says the cost of trying to execute someone is at least 50 percent more that a life sentence without parole. She cited the case of Randy Lee Guzek who has been on death row in Oregon for 24 years and still has remaining appeals, costing Oregon taxpayers approximately $2.2 million.
Former Oregon State Penitentiary Warden Frank Thompson, who oversaw the two most recent state executions in 1996 and 1997, told the crowd, "Oregon should not be implementing policy that has been proven not to work." Both executions occurred during Kitzhaber's first stint as governor, which he has cited as a major reason for his moratorium on any further executions while he is governor.
Backers of death penalty repeal took solace in passage of similar legislation in Maryland. Governor Martin O'Malley signed the legislation last week, making Maryland the 18th state to outlaw the death penalty.