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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…

Iran's renewed death sentences for juvenile offenders show 'contempt' for children's rights

A young prisoner charged with rape was hanged in public in Iran in Nov. 2015
A young prisoner charged with rape was hanged in public in Iran in Nov. 2015
Iran cemented its shameful status as the world's top official executioner of juvenile offenders after two young men were re-sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were under 18 years old, Amnesty International said today.

Sajad Sanjari and Hamid Ahmadi, who had been granted retrials because of their young age when the crimes occurred, will face execution after trial courts presiding over their separate cases concluded they had reached "mental maturity" at the time of the crime.

"This ruling lays bare the Iranian authorities' contempt for the human rights of children, coupled with their appetite for the death penalty - a toxic combination that leaves numerous juvenile offenders facing execution," said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme.

"Iran's continued use of the death penalty against persons convicted of crimes committed while they were under 18 years of age is cruel, inhumane and blatantly unlawful. The death sentences of both these men, and all other juvenile offenders on death row in Iran, must be commuted immediately."

A provision on juvenile sentencing in Iran's 2013 Penal Code allows judges to replace the death penalty with an alternative punishment if they decide that the juvenile offender did not comprehend the nature of the crime or its consequences, or that his or her "mental growth and maturity" are in doubt.

However, the courts in these cases dashed the hopes of both defendants - and of human rights advocates who have long called for the abolition of the death penalty against juvenile offenders - by reissuing the 2 death sentences with little explanation.

"The re-sentencing to death of Sajad Sanjari and Hamid Ahmadi makes a mockery of a fundamentally flawed provision that gives judges the discretion to impose the death penalty for crimes committed by minors. No such discretion must ever be given under any circumstances. The assessment of their mental state years after the crime is an inherently defective way of determining criminal responsibility," said Said Boumedouha.

"These retrial proceedings have been hailed as juvenile justice advances but increasingly we are seeing them turning into a cruel show that ends with juvenile offenders once again finding themselves on death row."

Sajad Sanjari, now aged 20, was first sentenced to death in January 2012 after being convicted of murder for fatally stabbing a man in Kermanshah Province. He was 15 years old at the time of the crime.

Hamid Ahmadi, 24, was first sentenced to death in August 2009 in connection with the fatal stabbing of a young man during a fight between 5 boys in northern Gilan Province. He was 17 years old at the time.

Iran is a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which prohibit the imposition of the death penalty against persons who were below 18 years of age at the time of the crime absolutely, allowing for no exceptions. However, Iran continues to impose the death penalty against juvenile offenders and frequently defer the execution until after they pass the age of 18.

"These cases highlight the continuing and urgent need for laws that will prohibit the use of the death penalty against juvenile offenders, once and for all," said Said Boumedouha.

"Until such time, juvenile offenders remain at risk of the death penalty even when their applications for retrial are granted."

Iran tops the grim, global table of executioners of juvenile offenders. In 2015 at least 4 juvenile offenders are believed to have been executed. They included Javad Saberi, hanged on 15 April, Vazir Amroddin, hanged in June/July, Samad Zahabi, hanged on 5 October, and Fatemeh Salbehi, hanged on 13 October.

"It is absolutely shocking that in the months and weeks leading to the review session before the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Iranian authorities shamelessly continue to sentence juvenile offenders to death and schedule and carry out their executions," said Said Boumedouha.

Iran is scheduled to be reviewed by the Committee on 11 and 12 January. The Committee has already expressed deep concerns about the use of death penalty against juvenile offenders and asked Iran to provide information on the outcome and progress of the cases of juvenile offenders undergoing re-trial.

Source: Amnesty International USA, December 9, 2015

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