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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…

Legislators attempt to repeal death penalty in South Dakota

Custer State Park, South Dakota
Custer State Park, South Dakota
2 dozen state legislators have sponsored a bill to repeal South Dakota's death penalty.

Sen. Arthur Rusch, R-Vermillion, a retired circuit court judge, and Rep. Timothy Johns, R-Lead, serve as the prime sponsors on Senate Bill 94 to strike the death penalty from state law. 

The bipartisan bill is sponsored by a total of 15 Democrats and 9 Republicans.

A Class A felony is currently the only capital offense in South Dakota and 18 people have been executed since South Dakota became a state in 1877, according to the state Department of Corrections.

The most recent executions in the state occurred in Oct. 2012, when Eric Robert and Donald Moeller were executed in Sioux Falls by lethal injection. 

Robert was executed for the homicide of Senior Correctional Officer Ron Johnson while Moeller received a lethal injection for the rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl in 1990. 

There are currently 3 South Dakota inmates who have been sentenced to death.

If approved, the bill would eliminate capital punishment for the law, but Class A felons would no longer be eligible for parole. 

The bill would also strike sections 3 and 4 of the law, which offer instructions to jurors in cases where the death penalty may be authorized.

The bill, which was introduced Tuesday, was referred to the Senate State Affairs Committee, and if approved, South Dakota would become the 20th state to abolish the death penalty.

A similar bill, 2015's Senate Bill 121, was deferred by the Senate State Affairs Committee in a 7-2 vote.

Source: Grand Forks Herald, Januarty 29, 2016

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