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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…

Colorado: Bill to make death penalty easier to give fails

A bill that would make it easier for Colorado juries to give the death penalty failed Wednesday when a Republican senator joined Democrats in saying that unanimous verdicts for capital punishment should stay a requirement.

The measure was inspired by 2 verdicts last year, in which jurors couldn't agree on execution for mass murderers and the defendants received life in prison.

A Denver jury last summer refused to give the death penalty to a man who stabbed 5 people to death in a bar in 2012. 

A few weeks earlier, suburban Denver jurors couldn't agree on execution for theater shooter James Holmes, who killed 12 people in 2012.

The life sentence for Holmes in particular showed that Colorado's death penalty system is "broken," said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, the bill's sponsor. His measure would have changed death verdict requirements from a 12-0 jury vote to 11-1.

"I believe it's tainted the entire process, and we need to address this issue that the policy of Colorado of having the death penalty for the most heinous crimes is attainable," Lundberg said.

Colorado has executed just 1 person in nearly 1/2 a century, and only 3 people sit on its death row.

Sen. Ellen Roberts, the Republican head of the committee that heard the bill, helped voted it down. It failed 3-2.

"The death sentence is a very drastic state action. We need to be absolutely sure," Roberts of Durango said after the vote.

The hearing attracted a few dozen death penalty opponents, some of whom carried signs outside urging Colorado to continue requiring unanimous verdicts for the death penalty.

"The decision to impose the sentence of death is probably the most serious decision we ask any citizen sitting on a jury to make," said Peter Severson, director of the Lutheran Advocacy Ministry-Colorado.

Only 1 witness testified in favor of the change - Tom Sullivan, father of theater shooting victim Alex Sullivan. He talked about how upset he was that the Holmes jury couldn't agree on execution.

"I thought that the violence of this crime ... would be enough for the verdict to be death. I was wrong," Tom Sullivan said.

Roberts said before the vote that she "too was dumbfounded by the result of the Holmes trial," adding that she doesn't oppose the death penalty.

Source: Associated Press, Feb. 11, 2016


Colorado bill to allow death sentence without unanimous vote dies

The bill was killed with a 3-2 vote in the Colorado Senate Judiciary Committee

Colorado lawmakers Wednesday killed a bill that would have eliminated the requirement that death sentences be unanimous by jurors.

The bill died in the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 3-2 vote.

Originally, the bill sought to allow a death sentence if at least nine of the 12 jurors voted for it. But the bill's sponsor, Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, amended the bill Wednesday, changing the requirement from nine jurors to 11.

10 people testified in opposition to the bill during the packed committee hearing, including representatives from the Colorado Public Defender's office, religious organizations and anti-death penalty groups.

Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center said even with the amendments, the legislation would make Colorado's death sentencing process unlike any other state in the country.

"Standing alone does put you in a target zone," Dieter said.

Tom Sullivan, whose son, Alex, was killed during an attack at an Aurora movie theater on July 20, 2012, was the only person to testify in favor of the bill.

James Holmes, the man convicted of killing Sullivan's son and 11 others, was sentenced to life after the jury in his case was not unanimous in their final vote.

"I'm not sure if justice was served if only one person voted no," Sullivan said.

Source: The Denver Post, Feb. 11, 2016

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