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Oregon stops an execution

Just now the word has come in: Governor John Kitzhaber has stopped the execution of two time killer Gary Haugen. He is on the radio now, in tears, he is describing how our death penalty system is broken. It has been carried out twice in the past 49 years, both on Kitzbaber's watch. 

He says the two executions have been, "the most agonizing and difficult decision he has made as a Governor." "I do nto think those decisions have made us safer. And I certainly do not think they make us more noble. But I simply can't participate in those decisions any more." 

I can not tell you how much this means to me. 

In September Gary Haugen asked me to visit him on death row. I did, and I left believing he should not die. Not becuase he was a sensitive remoreseful man, but because I don't think it is fair that Gary Haugen is allowed to create more victims, which is what his execution would do. Executions create a whole boat of people who must live with their particiaption in the act of killing someone. Why should we allow this man to create more victims?

Also, there is the subject of his initial victims. Though conventional wisdom tells us that it is "just" to allow the "worse of the worse" to die for their crime. In actual fact,  the most significant healing for victims can and often does happen when the two - victim and offender - are given an opportunity to meet - to talk - to ask questions - to apologise. That can not happen once an offender is killed by the state.

Governor Kitzhaber just called the death penalty a, "perversion of justice." In Oregon we have only executed people who have volunteered to die by giving up their appeals. This is not, as Gary Haugen suggested to me, Death with Dignity. It is Death by Cop. And it is wrong. Below is a letter I submitted to the editor of the Oregonian on Saturday. I am glad they will not have to publish it. 


Gary Haugen’s Next Victims

Naseem Rakha 11/19/11


While most people right now are making holiday plans, there is a small handful of Oregonians who are doing something much different. 


They are preparing to kill a man. 


On December 6th, convicted murderer Gary Haugen will be put to death by the state of Oregon. 


I met with Mr. Haugen in September. He had read my novel, The Crying Tree, and asked me to come see him. We talked about his crimes, his remorse, his life on death row, and what it feels like to be in a cell 23 hours a day—its sounds, its smells, the pervasive way it etches itself into a human. Gary doesn’t want any part of it, and has, just like the two other men executed in Oregon’s recent history, stopped his appeals. He wants to be done with it. And for many people I’ve spoken with, that’s just fine. Gary killed two people. He deserves his fate. 


But what about the people who must do the job of killing Mr. Haugen?


I have been told by many who have “worked executions” that the experience is traumatic. It lives with them by day, visits their dreams at night, haunting them well past the event. And I don’t just mean the “executioners,” people who insert the i.v.’s and start the deadly cocktail of narcotics. And it’s not just the doctors who sign their name on a death certificate that declares “homicide” as the cause of death. Nor is it just the superintendents who must plan and oversee every step of an execution. I mean everyone—from the tie down team to the cooks who must prepare the inmate’s last meal, and the jury members who vote to condemn offenders to death. Each one carries a part of a burden that I have been told is very difficult, if not impossible, to set down.


The vengeful part of me thinks that the ones who should have to do the work of killing the condemned, are the prosecutors who argue that it is in Oregon’s best interest to keep this ultimate and most heinous of punishments on the books. But I doubt that Josh Marquis or Norm Frink—two well-known prosecuting attorneys and vocal death penalty proponents—would want the job of actually killing the people they get sentenced to death. 


The real answer lies in the wood paneled office on the second floor of Oregon’s capitol. There, Governor John Kitzhaber could, just as former Republican Governor George Ryan from Illinois did, declare a moratorium on the death penalty. He could convene a panel to examine whether having a death penalty—the most expensive sentence in our state—is the best use of our limited tax dollars. Does it reduce crime? Is it applied fairly, equally, justly? Is it saved for the worse of the worse, and does the state kill without bias to race or wealth? And, do we as a society agree that creating more victims—individuals who must take on the job of killing someone, a job most people would rather never think about—is a valid cost of justice?


Part of me wishes it were not just Gary Haugen who said—”Go ahead, make my day,”—but every one of the 37 people currently sentenced to death in Oregon. What if they all stopped their appeals? What would happen then? How would we react? What would we say to the potential mass killing conducted by the state?


I think I know. Lawmakers would freak out and the media would have a hay day, and Governor Kitzhaber, driven by the utter ludicrousness of such a situation would say enough. This is not working. Let’s end it. 


Now is the time to say, “enough.” Today, before the holiday lights are lit and the carols start to play. Before we give Gary Haugen exactly what he wants for Christmas, and make victims out of those who must commit a homicide in the name of the state of Oregon. 


2 Comment count
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this is beautiful.

Oh, this is beautiful. I am an Oregonian currently trying to finish a PhD in Utah. I still vote in Oregon though. I voted for Gov. Kitzhaber, again. I liked him before, and I like him now. His decision sends a powerful message to other states. Since moving here to Logan 5 years ago I've seen the impacts of what states like my dear Oregon do, how it helps create movements here, how acts in Oregon lead to saving lives in places like little, very conservative, Logan. Thank you Gov. Kitzhaber, again.

Thank you for your beautiful words. I wish you could get them published beyond this space and beyond the Oregonian. 

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Thank you

Brook, you are right - people do pay attention to what happens in Oregon, and some wonderful things have happened here - our land use laws, our beach laws, the bottle bill, death with dignight, medical marijuana, the growing local food movement. In so many ways we have pushed the envelope forward. Hopefully Oregonians will learn to see the futility of a system of "justice" that causes so much grief and pain. Thank you for responding.