Haugen's lawyer challenges Kitzhaber over execution 'reprieve'

Haugen's lawyer challenges Kitzhaber over execution 'reprieve'
FILE - Death-row inmate Gary Haugen is led into the Marion County Courthouse Friday, Oct. 7 2011, in Salem, Ore. (AP file Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALEM, Ore. - The lawyer for convicted killer Gary Haugen has challenged Gov. John Kitzhaber's indefinite suspension of Haugen's execution and said the once-condemned man is in a "legal limbo" and may seek a legal avenue to get a new execution date.

Haugen was serving a life sentence for the 1981 killing of his ex-girlfriend's mother, Mary Archer, when he killed another inmate in prison in 2003 and was sentenced to death. He was scheduled to be executed late last year.

Haugen waived his appeals and agreed to be executed, and he has criticized the governor for canceling his date with death just two weeks before it was to take place. Mary Archer's sister called Kitzhaber a coward for not following through on Haugen's execution.

Kitzhaber signed off on the execution of two men during his first term as governor in the 1990s and said he regrets doing so. He said he won't oversee any more executions while he is in office because he believes it is "morally wrong."

In a letter dated Monday, March 12, Haugen's attorney, Harrison Latto, said Kitzhaber called the delay a "reprieve." Latto cited precedent and claims that was not a legally valid reason to delay Haugen's execution since Haugen did not agree to the "reprieve" and Kitzhaber's actions "exceeds your constitutional authority as Governor."

"According to decisions of the Oregon Supreme Court, a reprieve, like a pardon, is ineffective unless it is accepted by the person in whose favor it is granted," Latto wrote, citing cases from 1918 and 1926.

But the call for a new execution date could be complicated by the actions of another unnamed lawyer Latto said acted without permission from Haugen.

"Mr. Haugen hereby rejects the purported reprieve you have offered to him," Latto wrote. "Although a lawyer purporting to represent Mr. Haugen filed the reprieve in court, which might be construed as an acceptance of it, Mr. Haugen considers that act to be legally ineffective and void, inasmuch as the lawyer acted without his knowledge or authorization."

Latto said Haugen is filing a motion to have the lawyer's action nullified.

Latto also argues that the document signed by Kitzhaber in November of 2011 ending executions while he is in office does not constitute a "reprieve," which he said is for a definite period of time with an end date. He said that Haugen could possibly be executed once Kitzhaber leaves office, which could be as long as seven years from now.

In terms of a reprieve, commutation of sentence or a pardon, Latto wrote that the current situation does not fit the legal definitions in place for those terms, unfairly leaving Haugen's future uncertain.

"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, as long as seven years, at the end of which he might, or might not be put to death" Latto wrote. "Putting Mr. Haugen into that position against his will is more accurately described, in his view, as cruel or unusual punishment."

Latto closed by saying that unless Kitzhaber takes some action "within your constitutional authority," Haugen will ask for the circuit court to re-issue the death warrant for his execution.