EUGENE, Ore. — Governor Kitzhaber has said no one will be executed while he’s in office, but twice convicted murderer Gary Haugen says he wants to die. So Oregon Supreme Court justices gathered at the University of Oregon’s School of Law to discuss whether Haugen has that power. This case was heard as part of the justices’ annual trip to the UO School of Law.
“I had two basic arguments. One is that a reprieve must be accepted for it to be effective,” said Harrison Latto, Haugen’s attorney.
Haugen’s defense says Governor Kitzhaber act of clemency is an offer or a gift and Haugen doesn’t have to take this exemption from execution. But the state says no, Haugen doesn’t have right to refuse Kitzhaber’s orders.
“What the state is arguing is that this is an old power of grace going back to the King of England, and the inmate doesn’t have to accept the order of clemency for it to be valid,” said Carrie Leonetti, UO Law Assistant Professor.
The defense then gave its second argument.
“This isn’t really a reprieve at all but something else masquerading as a reprieve,” said Latto said.
Haugen’s attorney told justices that this is Kitzhaber’s way of making a statement about his own moral views on the death penalty, and it’s not about Haugen’s specific case but an attack on Oregon’s execution laws.
“Is aiming his reprieve at the laws and not at this individual,” Latto said.
But the state says Kitzhaber doesn’t need a reason.
“What’s not permissible is going behind the face of an individual’s reprieve and forcing the individual to justify his or her reasons or motivations for doing so,” said Anna Joyce, state attorney.
Legal experts say this is a rare case for state Supreme Court justices to hear. They say the act of clemency is unusual, but the rejection of clemency from a death row inmate is nearly unheard of. And if Haugen wins his case, it will bring up many more questions like whether a death row inmate has more power than the governor.
“If the court agrees with Mr. Haugen and rules that clemency has to be accepted by the recipient of the clemency for it to be valid, it does shift to some extent the balance of power to in this case death row inmates, but really anyone who is the subject of any form of clemency to reject their clemency,” Leonetti said.
Now both parties just have to wait until the Supreme Court makes its final decision which could take months.