Yesterday Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber announced a moratorium on all executions in the state, declaring capital punishment to be a “perversion of justice.”
Oregon has carried out two executions in the last 47 years, both during Kitzhaber's tenure as governor.
With convicted murderer Gary Haugen facing the death penalty on Dec. 6 — coupled with the governor's growing frustration with the death penalty — Kitzhaber had had enough and halted Haugen's execution as well as any in the foreseeable future.
"I refuse to be a part of this compromised and inequitable system any longer and I will not allow further executions while I am governor," Kitzhaber said in The Oregonian.
Sparing Haugen’s life is not only a powerful victory for his family and loved ones, but also for anti-death penalty activists such as Naseem Rakha, who has devoted much of her career to writing about capital punishment as a journalist and novelist.
Last month, shortly after the controversial execution of Troy Davis, I was privileged to speak with Rakha about the hidden lives behind the death penalty, the power of forgiveness, and the hope of reconciliation. In our conversation, Rakha described what it was like meeting with Haugen as he faced the death penalty. Haugen, who unlike many death row inmates had not fought his execution, read Rakha’s novel The Crying Tree, and contacted her after being moved by the novel's compelling story.
“He told how it emotionally moved him, he told me about how he was weeping with remorse for what he had done in his life, and he asked if I'd come and talk with him," Rakha said. "I met with him for a couple hours a few weeks ago and we had a very long talk. We talked about his past, we talked about his future — which he sees as very short — and I mostly just listened. Following our meeting I wrote him a lengthy letter explaining to him my position about his volunteering for execution, and why I opposed his decision. And why I hoped he'd rethink it.”
This morning on her blog, Rakha rejoices with the governor’s decision, saying in part:
In Oregon we have only executed people who have volunteered to die by giving up their appeals. Just like the prisoner in my book, The Crying Tree. But killing people creates more victims that it helps. Below is a letter I intended to submit to the editor of the Oregonian.
I am so glad I will not have to do that.
Joshua Witchger is an editorial web assistant for Sojourners.