Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber announced a moratorium on the death penalty for the remainder of his term. This makes Oregon the fifth state to halt executions since 2007.
Kitzhaber is a former emergency room doctor who still retains an active physician license. He is serving his third term (first since an eight-year hiatus from public office) as governor and his opposition to the death penalty has been well-known.
Oregon voters have outlawed the death penalty twice and legalized it twice. The state Supreme Court struck it down once. It has been legal since a 56% to 44% vote in 1984. Since 1984, two inmates have been executed. Both of them voluntarily gave up their appeals.
Kitzhaber said, “I do not believe those executions made us safer. Certainly I don’t believe they made us nobler as a society. And I simply cannot participate once again in something I believe to be morally wrong.”
He said he has no sympathy or compassion for murderers, but Oregon’s death penalty scheme is “an expensive and unworkable system that fails to meet basic standards of justice.” Eight condemned inmates have been on Oregon’s death row since the 1980s.
Governor Kitzhaber has authority from the state constitution to commute the sentences of all death row inmates, but chose not to do so because he feels the status of the state’s death penalty is a matter for the voters to decide. The moratorium will last until Kitzhaber leaves office. His current term ends in January 2015.
In addition to Oregon, four other states have halted executions. Illinois outlawed the death penalty this year after the discovery of wrongful convictions. New Jersey’s legislature and governor abolished the death penalty in 2007. New Mexico voters abolished it in 2009. A New York appeals court recently struck down a portion of that state’s death penalty statute.