Friday, December 02, 2011

Governor Kitzhaber reprieves a murderer

Convicted murderer Gary Haugen
Last week, Governor Kitzhaber issued a reprieve of execution for convicted murderer Gary Haugen.  The Governor effectively declared a moratorium on executions in this state for as long as he remains in office.  In doing so, he follows in the footsteps of Illinois Governor George Ryan (a Republican) who declared a moratorium in his own state in 2000.

Governor Kitzhaber stated that the capital punishment system in this state is "a perversion of justice." He pointed out that, in the 27 years since voters passed a referendum legalizing capital punishment, only 2 persons have been executed, both of whom had waived their legal rights.

Disregarding the particluars of Haugen's case, the Governor's decision is easy to justify.

From a purely fiscal perspective, it costs two-and-a-half times as much to execute a convict as it does to imprison that convict for life, when you take into account the legal processes and the additional strain on our over-burdened justice system.  In this light, executions seem to be expensive extravagances.

Further, there is statistical evidence to suggest that capital punishment is administered disproportionately against racial minorities.  According to the Death Penalty Focus, racial minorities compose 55% of convicts on Death Row, but are less than 30% of the general population. So, according to the irrefutable statistics, capital punishment has an inherent racial bias.  No one can support that.

And most importantly, since our justice system is a human institution, it is capable of error.  Anyone who reads the papers has surely read about the reversals of convictions that have come about because of recent advances in DNA analysis.  Those are proof of the system's fallibility.  And since the system is not (cannot be) perfect, with life and death at stake, the only moral conclusion one can come to is to discontinue it.  Clearly, it is better to spare the life of a murderer, no matter how heinous his crimes, than it is to mistakenly take the life of a wrongfully-accused innocent.

Contrary to one typical counter-point, this is not at all about "coddling murderers" or being "soft" on criminals.  Spending the rest of one's life in an 8' X 10' cell hardly seems like a reward, no?

In 2006, when Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer, was sentenced to life in prison in solitary confinement, Judge Richard Jones said this:  "As you spend the balance of your life in that tiny cell, surrounded only by your thoughts, please know the women you killed were not throwaways or pieces of candy in a dish placed upon this planet for the sole purpose of satisfying your murderous desires."

As Ridgway faced the families of his victims, he remained in control of himself.  That is, until he faced Robert Rule, the father of one of his victims...

Can someone watch this and still think Ridgway got off easy?

Capital punishment is something we should probably end.  I support Governor Kitzhaber's decision.

1 comment:

Ridwan said...

This decision made national news here in South Africa.  You know that our constitution outlaws capital punishment even though the vast majority of voters support repealing the ban.

I think it should be banned everywhere.

Peace Dade,