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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…

Opponents Hopeful Pope's Calls to End Death Penalty Resonate in Ohio

Executions are on hold in Ohio until 2017 as prison officials search for the necessary lethal injection drugs.

Death penalty opponents are hopeful the pope's calls to stop the use of capital punishment worldwide will resonate in Ohio, where executions have been highly criticized. After a 2007 assessment found Ohio fell short in 93 % of standards for a fair and accurate state death penalty system, an Ohio Supreme Court task force put forth recommendations for improvement.

Abraham Bonowitz, spokesperson for Ohioans to Stop Executions, explains that since then, more Ohioans support the alternative of life in prison without parole. And because Pope Francis is a moral leader for the world, says Bonowitz, his calls should be heard.

"We've got many, many Catholics here and many Catholics in leadership, in the legislature for example," he says. "And what we have to realize is that all of the mainstream Christian faiths and other religions as well call for ending the death penalty."

Ohio has a moratorium on executions until at least 2017, as prison officials attempt to secure the drugs needed for lethal injection. Of more than 140 death-row inmates in Ohio, 25 have a set execution date starting early next year.

Controversy grew over the death penalty in Ohio in 2014, when Dennis McGuire appeared to choke and struggle for 10 minutes during lethal injection. The state contends he did not suffer distress, and has said it plans to increase dosages in the future. Andrea Koverman, program manager with the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center in Cincinnati, says the incident opened many people's eyes.

"More and more people are questioning the practice, not only from moral principles but because of its ineffectiveness and the expense of it all," says Koverman. "And people are realizing it has not been an effective deterrent."

Recent research from the University of North Carolina found significant racial, gender, and geographic disparities in the 53 executions performed in Ohio since the state resumed capital punishment in the 1970s. Bonowitz contends an alternative punishment is needed in order to ensure a fair system.

"It's one thing to believe in the concept of the death penalty, but if you look at it and understand how the system fails us - it's not fair, it's not equitably applied," says Bonowitz. "The more you know about the death penalty, the less you like it."

According to Ohioans to Stop Executions, 9 death row inmates have been exonerated, spending a combined 190 years on death row before release.

Source: publicnewsservice.org, Feb. 22, 2016

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