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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…

Japan lawyers' group slams 'inhumane' death penalty, calls for suspension, national debate

Gallows at Tokyo Detention Center, Japan
Gallows at Tokyo Detention Center, Japan
The Japan Federation of Bar Associations on Wednesday condemned capital punishment as "inhumane" and called on Justice Minister Mitsuhide Iwaki to set up an panel of experts to review the policy.

It said the body should start a national debate about a practice already abandoned in Europe and elsewhere.

The lawyers' group, an influential body representing Japan's legal profession, said the panel should include people for, against and neutral toward the death penalty.

The secrecy surrounding executions in Japan has been criticized at home and abroad, with neither death row inmates nor their lawyers and families given advance notice executions, which take place by hanging.

It is also unclear what criteria authorities use in deciding when inmates are to be executed, as some remain on death row for years.

Making its case, the group noted that 140 countries have abolished the death penalty by law or in practice as of the end of 2014. It also cited a recommendation by the U.N. Human Rights Committee that urged Japan to "give due consideration to the abolition of the death penalty."

The group said: "The death penalty is one of the most important human rights problems facing Japan."

Moreover, it called for a suspension of executions while the nation debates the policy.

"We have called for public debate over the abolition of capital punishment," the group said. "It is because the death penalty is an inhumane punishment and it eliminates the possibility of rehabilitating those who commit crimes."

It added: "Trials always carry a risk of misjudgment, and if a wrong judgment leads to capital punishment, it cannot be corrected."

Source: Japan Times, December 9, 2015

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