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Death row inmate challenges reprieve

Wed., April 18, 2012, 11:57 a.m.

SALEM, Ore. — A condemned inmate spared from the death penalty is back in court today as he challenges a reprieve granted by Gov. John Kitzhaber.

A judge is not expected to rule yet on convicted murderer Gary Haugen’s request to reinstate his execution. Today’s hearing was called to schedule future proceedings, although Judge Timothy Alexander could rule on a request by Kitzhaber to join the case in order to defend his reprieve.

In court filings, the Marion County district attorney’s office has sided with Haugen’s argument that the governor’s reprieve is void if the inmate doesn’t accept it.

Haugen has been on death row since 2007 and voluntarily waived his appeals after the Oregon Supreme Court upheld his conviction and death sentence. He was scheduled to die by lethal injection in December before Kitzhaber granted a temporary reprieve “for the duration of my time in office,” saying Oregon’s death penalty system is unjust.

Haugen argues that the reprieve is invalid for three reasons: He doesn’t accept it, it wasn’t issued for a definitive time period and it was based on Kitzhaber’s opposition to the death penalty rather than an analysis of Haugen’s particular circumstances. He’s asking the Marion County Circuit Court to reissue a death warrant authorizing his execution.

“Mr. Haugen does not feel that you are treating him mercifully by forcing him to remain in a kind of legal limbo that will last for an uncertain period of time, potentially as long as seven years, at the end of which he might, or might not be put to death,” Haugen’s lawyer, Harrison Latto of Portland, wrote to Kitzhaber March 12.

Haugen was serving a life sentence for the 1981 murder of his former girlfriend’s mother when he was sentenced to death for the 2003 killing of a fellow inmate.

In granting a reprieve, Kitzhaber said he had no sympathy for criminals but was morally opposed to capital punishment and viewed Oregon’s death penalty system as “compromised and inequitable.”

Oregon has executed two people since voters reinstated the death penalty in 1984. Both of them, like Haugen, abandoned their appeals.

The Oregon Department of Corrections has returned $18,000 worth of lethal injection drugs purchased for Haugen’s execution.

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