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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…

Australia: Barrister Julian McMahon is Victoria's nomination for Australian of the Year

Barrister Julian McMahon
Barrister Julian McMahon
Barrister Julian McMahon fought tirelessly to try and save the lives of Bali Nine ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran and is Victoria's nomination for Australian of the Year.

A fierce opponent of the death penalty and a defender of human rights, he has worked to save the lives of Australians facing the death penalty overseas for the past 13 years.

He studied law in Melbourne and first decided he wanted to become a lawyer while in secondary school in Sydney.

"As a teenager I definitely developed an interest in law watching Rumpole of the Bailey," Mr McMahon told AAP.

His first work on a death penalty case was Van Tuong Nguyen in Singapore in 2002 as a "relatively new and raw barrister with four years experience".

But despite a fight from McMahon and the legal team, and pleas for clemency by the Australian government, Nguyen was executed for drug trafficking.

McMahon has since gone on to represent several death penalty cases involving Australians, including George Forbes in Sudan, who ultimately returned home to Sydney, and Bali Nine members Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

Since the executions of the pair in April last year, he has presented at the Asian Regional Congress on the Death Penalty in Malaysia and continues to speak out in opposition to the death penalty around the world.

McMahon says the long, drawn-out death penalty cases do take their toll but he just has to "get on with it".

"I would say that lots of people have difficult or demanding jobs and lives, but what I do is nothing compared to lifetime carers of people suffering serious disabilities," he said.

"I just feel embarrassed when people say `you're so amazing', when the fact is I'm doing my work the best I can and it's not as hard as what a lot of people have to do."

If McMahon becomes Australian of the Year, he says he will educate young people on death penalty issues and continue to help society's most marginalised people.

"If I was privileged to get that nomination, I would aim to use it to benefit the most marginalised people in society and the volunteers that help them."

VICTORIAN AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR FINALISTS

AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR

Julian McMahon. Barrister and human rights advocate and fierce opponent of the death penalty.

SENIOR AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR

Jack Charles. Indigenous elder, member of the Stolen Generation, role model and one of Australia's most respected actors.

YOUNG AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR

Robert Gillies. A co-founder of Homeless of Melbourne.

AUSTRALIA'S LOCAL HEROES

Rebecca Scott. The founder of STREAT, a social enterprise business model that provides hospitality training for homeless and at risk youth

Source: AAP, January 21, 2016

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