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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 would allow death sentence without unanimous vote

James E. Holmes (L) was sentenced to serve life in prison + 3318 years for the Aurora mass shooting. "Not enough," Colorado lawmakers say.
James E. Holmes (L) was sentenced to serve life in prison + 3318 years for
the Aurora mass shooting. "Not enough," some Colorado lawmakers say.
Lawmakers are considering legislation that would make Colorado one of just 3 states that do not require unanimous verdicts

Five months after two of Colorado's most notorious mass murderers received life sentences, lawmakers are considering legislation that would toss the requirement that death sentences be unanimous.

The bill would allow a death sentence if at least nine of the 12 jurors vote for it. Removing the requirement would put Colorado in the minority of states — there are only three — that allow for non-unanimous verdicts in capital cases.

A unanimous vote would still be required to convict someone of a crime.

Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, said he is sponsoring the bill because he "wants to save lives" and have a penalty "that will cause the bad guy to think twice before they pull the trigger."

"Colorado has a death penalty sentence on the books. But in reality, I think we have set the bar so high through the process that it's impossible to actually garner a conviction in cases where it is so obviously deserving of the death penalty."

But critics peg the legislation — which could still be amended — as an effort to make it easier to obtain a death sentence.

"We require the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt all criminal charges to a unanimous jury," said Colorado public defender Doug Wilson. "So (under the proposed bill) someone charged with shoplifting would get a unanimous jury, and yet when we decide we want to execute one of our citizens, we would leave it to a jury of less than 12."

Rarely used in Colorado, the death penalty was center stage last summer as prosecutors sought the punishment for two men convicted of two devastating crimes. The trials of James Holmes and Dexter Lewis stretched on for weeks and months but ultimately ended in life sentences for each.

Holmes, who was convicted of killing 12 people and wounding 70 inside an Aurora movie theater in July 2012, was sentenced to life during the final phase of sentencing, in which three jurors did not vote for a death sentence.

Shortly after, during the second phase of Lewis' death penalty hearing, at least one member of a Denver jury found that the details of his life suggested mercy outweighed the details of the crime that suggested death. Lewis, who was convicted of stabbing five people to death in a bar in 2012, also was sentenced to life in prison.


Source: The Denver Post, Jordan Steffen, Feb. 9, 2016

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