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Death Row Inmate Fights For Right To Die In Oregon

Convicted murderer Gary Haugen has spent more than 30 years in prison; he's been on death row since 2007. And if he had his way, he would schedule his execution tomorrow. But in an unusual case, the Oregon Supreme Court must decide whether Haugen, who has waived his right to appeal, can die — or if Gov. John Kitzhaber's reprieve of Haugen should stand.

Attorneys for both sides answered justices' questions Thursday, with Haugen's attorney, Harry Latto, arguing that "an inmate's acceptance is required for an act of clemency to be valid," reports The Oregonian.

Oregon Solicitor General Anna Joyce says that if the high court agrees with a lower court's ruling that Haugen should be allowed to die, it would be undermining the governor's authority. Kitzhaber has said that he opposes capital punishment; in 2011, he announced a moratorium on executions in his state.

Haugen's execution has been put on hold before. After a December 2011 date was cancelled, Haugen told The Statesman Journal that "this is surreal. This is like Groundhog Day, man. I'm Bill Murray, and he's God."

In 1981, Haugen was sentenced to life in prison for killing his former girlfriend's mother. In 2003, he killed a fellow prisoner, for which he was sentenced to die by lethal injection. He is one of more than two dozen people on Oregon's death row.

Haugen was not present for Thursday's session. In a telephone interview this week, the 50-year-old inmate told The Oregonian's Helen Jung that he would like to send a message to the state's high court: "Please. Follow the law," he said. "Don't follow emotion. Don't follow politics."

The case lacks a clear legal precedent, as it seems that no prisoner in Oregon has ever refused a reprieve from the death penalty. The state's laws allow prisoners to reject clemency if it comes with burdensome conditions.

As Eugene's Register-Guard reports, the governor's legal team believes that an "inmate simply possesses no power to reject an unconditional reprieve and force his government to execute him."

According to The Register-Guard, Haugen's attorneys argue that "subjecting Haugen to continued uncertainty over whether and when he will be executed amounts to cruel and unusual punishment."

The Oregon Supreme Court isn't likely to announce its ruling in the case until later this year.

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