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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

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To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

Texas: Skinner's Lawyer, AG Disagree Over DNA Results

Hank Skinner
Lawyers for death row inmate Hank Skinner say the latest round of DNA testing in the 1993 triple murder he was convicted for show that someone else likely committed the crime.

“In light of this latest round of DNA tests, supported by other exculpatory evidence, the doubts about Mr. Skinner’s guilt are far too substantial to allow his execution to proceed,” Douglas Robinson, an attorney for Skinner, wrote in an email.

But lawyers with Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office argue that the same test results only reinforce Skinner’s guilt.

“The new round of testing does nothing to vindicate Hank Skinner in the murder of Twila Busby,” said Jerry Strickland, an Abbott spokesman.

Skinner was convicted in 1995 of killing his girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her two adult sons in Pampa. He has maintained his innocence, arguing that he was too inebriated from a mixture of vodka and codeine to overpower the three victims. He pleaded with the state for more than a decade to test DNA that he argues implicates another man as the killer.

Prosecutors agreed to allow the DNA testing in June 2012, and on Aug. 6, lawyers received the results of a third round of tests — analysis of mitochondrial DNA on four hairs found on Busby’s hands. One of the hairs belonged to Skinner, which his lawyers say is unremarkable because he lived in the home where the killing occurred. The other three hairs came from the “maternally-related line of persons that included the victims.” A previous examination of those hairs indicated they weren't from the victims.

The testing on the hairs, Skinner’s lawyers argue, aligns with their contention that the killer was likely Busby’s maternal uncle, who they allege had a history of violence and had been making unwanted sexual advances toward her the night of the crime.

A windbreaker that resembled one Busby’s now-deceased uncle regularly wore was also found at the crime scene, and he was seen scrubbing down his truck just days after the murders.

But Strickland said the new testing doesn’t indicate that anyone other than Skinner was involved in the crime. He contended that the three hairs that weren’t Skinner’s could have belonged to Busby or her sons.

“Despite his continual delay tactics, the latest test results continue to show the link between Hank Skinner and his guilt in the murder of Twila Busby,” Strickland wrote in an email.

Skinner’s lawyers filed their conclusions about the latest testing results with the court this week, and the state has previously filed its conclusions using earlier DNA tests, which they said implicated Skinner in the crime.

“Hank Skinner's case is exactly the reason why this office supported a new law requiring DNA evidence be tested before trial instead of continuing to delay justice,” Strickland said.

Source: The Texas Tribune, August 29, 2013

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