EUGENE, Ore. — A power struggle between a death-row inmate who wants to be executed and a governor who refuses to let it occur reached Oregon’s highest court Thursday as lawyers sparred over the governor’s authority to delay criminal sentences.
The lawyer for a man convicted of two murders argued that Governor John Kitzhaber lacks the authority to delay Gary Haugen’s execution without the inmate’s consent.
Kitzhaber, a death penalty opponent, regretted letting two other inmates be put to death and said he will not allow it again. He blocked Haugen’s execution in 2011, delaying the sentence until the governor leaves office.
‘‘The Constitution trumps his moral views,’’ said Haugen’s lawyer, Harrison Latto. ‘‘The Constitution has a clause in it that says the death penalty is legal.’’
The governor argued that his clemency power is absolute, and no one can prevent him from doing what he believes to be in the state’s best interest.
Kitzhaber has urged a statewide vote to abolish the death penalty; the Legislature may put it on the 2014 ballot.