Interview: Death row inmate says governor wasn't truthful with voters

PORTLAND, Ore. - The man sitting on Oregon's death row and wants the state to execute him had harsh words Wednesday for the man trying to save his life.

During a phone interview from death row, Gary Haugen took issue with Gov. John Kitzhaber, the man who blocked his execution in 2011. The governor said he wouldn't let anyone be executed on his watch.

On Wednesday, Haugen claimed the governor wasn't truthful with voters about how far he'd go in opposing the death penalty until after voters put him back in office in 2010.

"When he was campaigning, he knew fully well if this came up again he was going to do something different. ... But he didn't disclose that to the people," Haugen said.

Kitzhaber did say at a League of Women Voters primary debate April 1 2010, before getting re-elected, that he was "personally opposed to the death penalty." He talked about how difficult it was to allow two people to be put to death while he was governor the first time, and he didn't ever want to have to do that again.

Haugen's battle with the governor is now before the Oregon Supreme Court, and he insisted the issue is not about him but about the law.

"It's about the people and maintaining the integrity of the law," Haugen said. "The people voted the death penalty in. ... The people are the ones who voted in this statute that allows prisoners to waive their appeals at a certain appellate juncture. ... And (Kitzhaber's) not respecting the people on any level."

When asked if he'd consider taking his own life if he loses the case to save everyone the trouble and save taxpayer money, Haugen said, "That's the easy way. In my younger days in my experiences with drugs - been there done that - that's not part of the equation," he said.

Oregon's justices will likely rule on Haugen's case by the end of the year. They won't decide the legality of the death penalty itself, which has been extensively debated, but rather will consider the sparsely explored question of how much power the governor has to reduce, delay or eliminate criminal sentences.

Haugen was sentenced to death along with an accomplice in 2007 for the jailhouse murder of a fellow inmate, who was found with stab wounds and a crushed skull in the prison band room. At the time, Haugen was serving a life sentence for fatally beating his former girlfriend's mother in 1981.

During Wednesday's phone interview, he apologized to the families for what he'd done.

"To the Pratt family and the Archer family, whether they believe it or not, I'd give my soul if I could take it back," he said. "If I would have just responded in a different way - I'm sorry."

The Associated Press contributed background to this report.