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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…

Missouri: Prosecutors will re-try Reginald Clemons in Chain of Rocks murders

Reginald Clemons
Reginald Clemons
Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce announced Monday she will re-try Reginald Clemons, whose 1st-degree murder conviction and death sentence were thrown out by the Missouri Supreme Court in November.

Joyce said she will seek the death penalty again.

Clemons had been fighting his death sentence for the 1991 murder of sisters Julie and Robin Kerry on the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge. In a 4-3 decision written by Chief Justice Patricia Breckenridge, the state's high court sent the case back to circuit court, giving Joyce 60 days to refile charges.

In a comment posted to Twitter, Joyce said her office has reviewed the state's evidence, availability of witnesses and reporting officers and discussed the case with victims' families. She said she has filed charges of 1st-degree murder, rape and robbery.

She said that "modern DNA testing" had corroborated the state's cases against Clemons and two other men convicted of murder in the case, Marlin Gray and Antonio Richardson.

"2 charges of rape against Clemons were originally filed by prosecutors in this case," she said. "At the time of this incident, the law prohibited prosecutors from trying Clemons for both the murders and the rapes at the same time because the death penalty for murder was being sought.

"After Clemons was convicted, prosecutors dropped the rape charges because Clemons had been sentenced to death," she said.

Ginny Kerry, the mother of the victims, said in an interview that prosecutors were "doing what we want them to do."

"We all met with the Circuit Attorney's Office weeks ago, and we want the new trial to go on," she said. "Why would we want him being set free for killing my kids? He's guilty, he's always been guilty and he knows he's guilty."

Clemons' attorney, Joshua Levine, with the Simpson Thacher & Bartlett law firm in New York, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Supreme Court's decision to throw out the murder conviction cited the findings of Michael Manners, a retired judge appointed by the state's highest court as "special master" to review Clemons' case.

Manners found that Clemons had failed to prove his innocence in the case, but concluded that St. Louis prosecutors wrongly suppressed evidence and also found that detectives had beat Clemons into confessing to the crimes.

Manners said in his report that the jury in Clemons' case might never have heard his taped confession if the state had not failed to disclose a probation officer's statement that he saw injuries to Clemons' face after a police interrogation.

The officer also claimed that one of his supervisors and the lead prosecutor in the case attempted to convince him to change his written report of the injury. He refused, but the report was altered anyway to remove any reference to the injury.

In dissent, Judge Paul C. Wilson wrote that there had been no failure to produce evidence by the state. The state had given Clemons' attorneys the identity of the probation officer "and the document on which (he) supposedly noted this observation long before trial," Wilson wrote.

And he said Clemons was not entitled to relief unless the evidence would have been likely to change the verdict.

Clemons remains in prison on a 15-year sentence for his conviction in 2007 of assaulting a Department of Corrections employee.

Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 25, 2016

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