SALEM, Ore. A Marion County judge ruled Tuesday that death row inmate Gary Haugen is mentally competent to make his own legal decisions as the death penalty process moves forward in his case.
Haugen's execution had previously been blocked by the Oregon Supreme Court.
Haugen, 49, has said that he wants to waive all his appeals and allow the state to execute him. When the high court blocked his execution, it was first determined that tests of Haugen's competency were insufficient.
The judge who conducted the competency test was then given the task of evaluating another psychological exam of Haugen, this one conducted by a forensic psychologist.
Judge Joseph Guimond considered the psychologist's report and other evidence on Tuesday before deciding whether to authorize the execution of the twice-convicted murderer by lethal injection. Guimond also listened to testimony from the psychologist in court.
I guess the distinction I'm making is if you told him you could walk out, you know be in the community today, I don't think he'd say, 'Oh I want to be executed,' he'd say, 'My choices are death row or execution and I'd rather be executed,' testified clinical psychologist Richard Hulting.
Guimond ruled that Haugen was competent to assist in his defense and to understand the consequences of his desire to be executed. But the judge has not yet determined whether the twice-convicted murderer can waive his appeals and die by lethal injection.
I find the defendant is competent to engage in reason, choices, regarding his legal strategies. I further find that the defendant is competent to assist his counsel...and I further find that the defendant does not have a mental condition that impairs his ability to have a rational understanding for the reasons of his execution, Guimond stated in court.
The judge's finding overcomes a key roadblock to Haugen's desire to be executed.
If Haugen is successful, his execution would be Oregon's first in 14 years. He was put on death row in 2007 for the murder of a fellow inmate. Haugen was in prison on a 1981 murder charge when he and another prisoner were convicted of the 2003 murder of a fellow inmate who they mistakenly thought was snitching to guards.
Sixty inmates have been killed in the Oregon Corrections system, two since voters reinstated the death penalty in 1984.
Haugen' next court date has been set for October 7. At that time, a judge could set an execution date.