Neither murderer Gary Haugen nor Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber understand the nature of sacrifice.
In Kitzhaber’s case it’s surprising. He used to be an emergency room doctor. Certainly he realizes that some people are worth trying to save, and some are not. His efforts on behalf of Haugen not only cost the state of Oregon money, but they distort our values.
Oregon – like the rest of America – has more important issues than saving a twice-convicted murderer whose guilt is not in doubt.
Were it not for Kitzhaber, Haugen would have been humanely put to death on Dec. 6. Instead, he was chest-thumping a few days ago with his latest legal victory. He is trying to overturn a temporary reprieve by Kitzhaber halting all executions.
Haugen and Kitzhaber need each other.
Haugen fashioned a tolerable life for himself in the prison’s general population. He even carved out enough freedom to stab fellow inmate David Polin and crush his skull. That earned Haugen a spot on Death Row, a much more confining place than the general population.
He told the Statesman-Journal newspaper in Salem that he hated Death Row and wanted to die with dignity, “sacrificing” himself to protest what he described as “the arbitrary and vindictive nature” of the death penalty (as if life itself wasn’t arbitrary and vindictive).
While Haugen plays the martyr, Kitzhaber plays Sister Helen Prejean.
Recalling the two executions that he allowed to take place during his first administration, Kitzhaber said he didn’t believe they made the state safer.
“Certainly I don’t believe they made us nobler as a society. And I simply cannot participate once again in something I believe to be morally wrong.”
If it’s nobility Kitzhaber’s looking for, perhaps he should have stayed in the emergency room and avoided politics.
Or he could find the nobility in carrying out an unpleasant government duty — ensuring a humane death for a man like Haugen. Kitzhaber can steel himself by accepting that Haugen’s death is not a sacrifice. It is not a loss. (Ask the weaker inmates in the general population he has most certainly bullied in his 19-plus years at Oregon State Penitentiary. Unfortunately, we can’t ask Mary Archer, the woman Haugen raped and beat to death, the crime that originally landed him in prison.)
If we cannot defeat an individual evil like Haugen, how would we ever fight a massive injustice? Would we just turn the other cheek?
The shooting deaths last month in an Aurora, Colo., theater opened some Hollywood eyes into what is happening to our culture.
Rob Cohen, director of “The Fast and Furious,” admitted it made him stop and think when he learned that the shooter was dressed as the villain from an earlier Batman movie.
“I just finished a film … even though it’s PG-13, it’s very intense and has a character, played by Matthew Fox, that is meant to be a terrible, terrible villain. But the way Matthew and I (developed) that character, he’s actually very charismatic and the audience’s favorite character in research previews,” Cohen said on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation.”
He told the show’s host, Neal Conan, “It’s interesting how an anti-hero or a villain can, in today’s zeitgeist, be projected with so much charisma that we wind up in a darker, more disturbing area of human experience.”
Minutes later Conan read this email from Sarah in Ogden, Utah: “Your discussions reminded me that when my nephew plays, he always wants to be the bad guy. This is a big change from when I was a kid. We always wanted to be the good guy, the hero and save the day.”
People like Tom O’Connor should be pleased by this turn.
O’Connor, a board member of Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, runs a company called Transforming Corrections.
“It’s really trying to help (correctional agencies) become more compassionate, more effective and less costly,” he told the Statesman-Journal.
Playing off Gary Haugen’s sacrificial heroics is one way to generate compassion. When that doesn’t work, there’s the cost angle.
Haugen has gloated that he is “a cash cow” for attorneys. As of eight months ago, the Statesman-Journal in Salem estimated that taxpayers had spent more than $1.2 million in attorney fees and other costs associated with the case in the past five years.
“If capital punishment is prohibitively expensive, it is because those professionally seeking to abolish it have made it so,” writes Charles C. Johnson in the Los Angeles Times.
He detailed the farcical nature of some of the lawsuits filed by death penalty opponents (who deceptively call themselves “abolitionists” hoping to trade on the civil rights movement).
Consider the case of Michael Morales, who admitted killing 17-year-old Terri Winchell.
“She was stabbed, strangled, knifed and hammered,” Johnson writes. Twenty-one years later, Morales has still not been executed. The grounds for his latest stay: There is a .001 percent chance that the three-drug method of execution might cause Morales pain.
In March, former New York Times reporter Raymond Bonner appeared at Powell’s books in downtown Portland to promote his “Anatomy of Injustice,” about a man on South Carolina’s Death Row he believed was innocent of murder (the man left prison, choosing to plead guilty instead of facing a retrial).
This plodding book includes eight pages of photographs – not a single one of the victim, 76-year-old Dorothy Edwards. However, there are three pictures of the blonde defense attorney (including a cleavage shot when she was 17).
To drum up interest in his book, Bonner asked Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis to appear with him at Powell’s. Marquis is a nationally-known death penalty supporter, and the two enjoy a friendly rivalry.
Bonner played to a sympathetic crowd at Powell’s. During the Q-and-A a man who looked to be in his late 30s stood tall and confident. He didn’t so much ask a question as issue a declaration, telling Marquis that he was wasting time going after “small fry” when powerful politicians and corporations are destroying lives.
Marquis let him have his say, and then quietly replied.
“Murder victims have names and faces,” he said. “They are not small fry.”
They are also easily forgotten. In the recent coverage of Haugen’s latest legal maneuver, news stories mentioned that the last death row inmate to get a reprieve (and later a commutation) by a governor was Billy Junior Nunn. His victim didn’t merit a name.
If you dig into The Oregonian’s archives from the 1950’s, you will find that Nunn sexually assaulted and killed a 14-year-old Klamath Falls boy named Alvin Eacret.
Delve a little further, and you will find these lost words from his mother, Lillie Eacret, who wanted then-Gov. Robert D. Holmes to stand in her son’s corner.
“My son was not strong, and perhaps for that reason he occupied a special place in the hearts of all of us, especially his older brother. Death comes to all of us … fortunately, death comes to few people the way it came to Alvin. There is dignity in death as it usually comes. There is even dignity when it comes in the form of legal and solemn execution. Alvin’s death was without dignity.”
The boy’s nude body was found near Tubb Springs State Park east of Medford. He had a belt wrapped around his neck and a cloth gag stuffed in his mouth.
Next time Haugen or one of his saviors mentions “sacrifice,” think of Alvin Eacret.
His mother died 10 years ago. His killer?
The Oregon Board of Parole told the Statesman-Journal in Salem that it has no record of when he was released.
My Google search turned up a Billy Junior Nunn in Dayton, Ore. who’s 84. That’s how old Alvin Eacret’s killer would be if he were still alive.
Alvin Eacret would be 70, but he never made it past 14.
– Pamela Fitzsimmons