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Governor can deny inmate execution

A US governor can deny the execution of a death row inmate who wants to die, a court has ruled.

Oregon governor John Kitzhaber opposes the death penalty and intervened weeks before Gary Haugen was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection in 2011. Mr Kitzhaber has vowed to block any execution during his term in office and urged a state-wide vote on abolishing the death penalty.

More than half of US states still have the death penalty, but officials have mixed feelings about it.

Haugen, who was convicted of two murders, has said his reprieve is invalid because he refuses to accept it.

The governor argued that his clemency power is absolute, and nobody - certainly not an inmate on death row - can prevent him from doing what he believes to be in the state's best interest.

Oregon has executed two inmates since voters reinstated the death penalty in 1984. Both, like Haugen, waived their appeals in the late 1990s. Mr Kitzhaber, who was governor then, declined to intervene - a decision he now regrets. "I am still convinced that we can find a better solution that holds offenders accountable and keeps society safe, supports the victims of crime and their families and reflects Oregon values," he said in a statement.

The court said there is nothing in the state constitution giving an inmate a right to reject clemency.

The reprieve expires when Mr Kitzhaber leaves office. His term ends in January 2015 and he has not said whether he will run for another four-year term.

Haugen was sentenced to death with an accomplice in 2007 for the jailhouse murder of a fellow inmate. At the time, Haugen was serving a life sentence for fatally beating his former girlfriend's mother in 1981.

He has written to court officials since 2008 asking to drop his appeals, complaining about a "costly broken system" and a criminal justice process he calls arbitrary and vindictive.

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