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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…

California: Death penalty overturned because of Bible quotes

Rudolph Roybal in 1992
Rudolph Roybal in 1992
A judge has overturned the death sentence in the murder of an Oceanside housewife, finding the prosecutor committed “egregious misconduct” by telling jurors the Bible calls for murderers to be sentenced to death.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller wrote that the repeated quotations and references to biblical law in the prosecutor’s closing statements were so inflammatory that they affected the outcome of Rudolph Roybal’s 1992 trial.

“The prosecutor’s improper argument presented an intolerable danger that the jury minimized its role as fact finder and encouraged jurors to vote for death because it was God’s will, and not that the imposition of the death penalty complied with California and federal law,” Miller wrote in a 226-page opinion granting Roybal’s appeal. The opinion was filed last week.

The judge also chastised Roybal’s defense attorneys, ruling they provided ineffective counsel by not objecting to the prosecutor’s inappropriate closing remarks.

“The failure of defense counsel to object to such egregious misconduct and secure an admonition deprived defendant of the fundamental fairness of a death penalty proceeding free from foul prosecutorial blows,” Miller said.

The ruling directs prosecutors to either grant Roybal, 59, a new penalty phase trial to determine if he should be sentenced to death, or to resentence him to life without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors have about four months to decide how to proceed.

Prosecutors can also appeal the judge’s ruling to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The District Attorney’s Office, which initially tried the case, said it is reviewing the ruling and declined to comment further Tuesday.

Roybal was a 33-year-old drifter who had come from Santa Fe, N.M., to stay with his half-brother for awhile in Oceanside in 1989.

Testimony at the trial in Vista Superior Court was rife with details about his horrific childhood. His mother drank alcohol while pregnant with him, then later neglected him, and at one point offered to give him up to appease her husband at the time, according to testimony. Roybal started drinking and sniffing paint at age 9 and suffered from various personality disorders.

By the time he made it to Oceanside, he’d already been convicted of six felonies, including a drug-fueled attack on a former girlfriend and a car chase that ended with his passenger firing shots at a pursuing police officer.


Source: The San Diego Union-Tribune, Kristina Davis, December 8, 2015

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