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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…

Oklahoma grand jury probes executions after trail of resignations

Oklahoma's death chamber
Oklahoma's death chamber
An Oklahoma grand jury investigating flawed executions in the state met on Tuesday after three top officials who previously testified before the panel submitted their resignations shortly after.

Death penalty opponents said the resignations underscore the state's systemic failures in implementing the death penalty. The state's leaders see the grand jury as a necessary step in identifying problems that they can solve to then soon resume executions.

The latest person to resign was Steve Mullins, the general counsel to Governor Mary Fallin, a Republican. Mullins, who announced his decision last week, said he was doing so because of the stress of the job.

"One reason Oklahoma executions are so flawed is the lack of transparency. The public doesn't know where the state gets its drugs or the qualifications of those who carry out the executions," said attorney Dale Baich, who has represented death row inmates in Oklahoma.

The other officials who resigned are State Penitentiary Warden Anita Trammell and Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton. Both said they were stepping down for personal reasons and to take on other work.

The state set up the multi-county grand jury in October that has met behind closed doors. It is expected to finish its work in July and issue a report.

Oklahoma drew international condemnation following a troubled execution in 2014 in which medical staff did not properly place an intravenous line on convicted murderer Clayton Lockett.

The execution was halted after the needle popped out, spewing lethal injection chemicals in the death chamber. Lockett, seen twisting on the gurney, died about 45 minutes after the procedure began due to chemicals built up in his tissue.

The state then revised its protocols but the two planned executions that followed last year were flawed, with the wrong chemical being added to the lethal injection mix.

One of the executions was carried out and convicted murderer Charles Warner said in his final words, "My body is on fire." The other execution of Richard Glossip was halted just minutes before the planned time after the mistake was discovered.

After that, the state placed a moratorium on executions.

Oklahoma had been one the leading states in terms of executions since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, executing 112 death row inmates in the time, according the Death Penalty Information Center.

Source: Reuters, Feb. 16, 2016

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