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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…

North Carolina prosecutor who sent 5 to death row: It's time to end death penalty

Vince Rabil
Vince Rabil
25 years ago, as an assistant district attorney in Forsyth County, Vince Rabil helped put Blanche Taylor Moore on death row. 

Today, Rabil says it is time to end the death penalty and calls Moore - a frail 82-year-old still sitting on death row - "a living monument to the failure of a vanishing legal remedy."

In an op-ed published Sunday, Rabil repudiates a punishment that he spent nearly 2 decades of his career fighting to uphold. In the 1990s, he prosecuted a dozen people for the death penalty and put at least 5 on death row. Four remain there today.

Rabil believed so strongly in the death penalty that, in 1997, he became the 1st prosecutor in the country to seek death for a drunk driver. "This will seriously make everyone stop after the 1st drink or the 2nd one," he said at the time.

Now, Rabil says the death penalty is a broken system that costs taxpayers dearly, threatens innocent defendants, and does little to comfort the grieving families of victims. He says life with no possibility of parole is a more appropriate replacement.

Rabil's transformation reveals how much our state has evolved since the 1990s, when a blind faith in the capital punishment system allowed us to sentence dozens of people a year to die. 

This year, N.C. juries didn't hand down a single death sentence, executions remained on hold for a 9th year, and public opposition to the death penalty reached its highest point since the 1970s. In North Carolina, even a Republican legislator came out against capital punishment.

At the same time, Rabil's courageous stance against the death penalty marks a turning point in North Carolina. While many prosecutors, current and former, no doubt have serious concerns about the death penalty, Rabil is the 1st in our state to take such a public stand.

We applaud Rabil for speaking the truth that so many others are afraid to admit.

Source: nccadp, December 14, 2015

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