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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…

Pope calls for worldwide abolition of death penalty

Pope Francis on Sunday called for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty, saying the commandment "You shall not kill" was absolute and equally valid for the guilty as for the innocent.

Using some of his strongest words ever against capital punishment, he also called on Catholic politicians worldwide to make "a courageous and exemplary gesture" by seeking a moratorium on executions during the Church's current Holy Year, which ends in November.

"I appeal to the consciences of those who govern to reach an international consensus to abolish the death penalty," he told tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square.

"The commandment "You shall not kill," has absolute value and applies to both the innocent and the guilty," he told the crowd.

The 1.2 billion-member Catholic Church allowed the death penalty in extreme cases for centuries, but the position began to change under the late Pope John Paul, who died in 2005.

The pope added that there was now "a growing opposition to the death penalty even for the legitimate defense of society" because modern means existed to "efficiently repress crime without definitively denying the person who committed it the possibility of rehabilitating themselves."

Francis made the comments to throw his weight behind an international conference against the death penalty starting Monday in Rome and organized by the Sant'Egidio Community, a worldwide Catholic peace and justice group.

Francis, who has visited a number of jails since his election as pope nearly 3 years ago - the latest in Mexico last week - also called for better prison conditions.

"All Christians and men of good will are called on to work not only for the abolition of the death penalty, but also to improve prison conditions so that they respect the human dignity of people who have been deprived of their freedom," he said.

In the past, the pope also denounced life imprisonment, calling it "a hidden death penalty" and saying that more should be done to try to rehabilitate even the most hardened of criminals.

Source: Reuters, Feb. 21, 2016

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