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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…

South Carolina bill would conceal lethal injection drug suppliers

South Carolina death chamber
South Carolina death chamber
South Carolina lawmakers are looking for a compromise in a bill that would render information about lethal injection drugs a secret, a change that may enable the state to resume executions.

The state uses a 3 drug protocol: pentobarbital, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride. The corrections agency does not have the first 2 drugs and has not been able to acquire them.

Officials believe S.553, which would conceal details of the drug procurement process, would make it easier for the state to acquire execution drugs. But on Thursday a Senate committee held up the legislation without debating it, citing a need address the differences with the parties involved.

Mandy Medlock, executive director of Justice 360, which opposes the bill, said the committee's lack of approval on Thursday, if only temporary, was a positive step.

She was less hopeful about the prospect of finding common ground.

"We're interested in what everybody has to say, but it's a very black and white issue. Either it's a secret or it's not," said Medlock.

After S.C. Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling became the agency director in the fall of 2013, he was told the execution drugs had recently expired and that no companies would sell them to the agency. The department is required to carry out the sentence of the court and has no position on the death penalty.

Stirling said opponents have been "very successful" at obtaining information through open records laws and other legal means about the companies that supply the drugs. Activists then contact the companies on the issue, resulting in manufacturers refusing to sell specific drugs to corrections departments across the country.

S. 553 would help South Carolina officials respond.

"This would give us something that we can go to the companies and say, 'Here is your protection. They will not target you,'" Stirling said in an interview Thursday. "It's basically expanding the execution team, and saying the people that supply the drugs would be protected, also, along with the current execution team."

If the bill does not pass, the agency chief said, "We'll do everything we can to seek these drugs, but we're running into road block after roadblock."

Laura Hudson, executive director of the S.C. Crime Victims' Council, was dismayed by Thursday's lack of progress on S.553.

"A crime victim would never want the wrong person accused, much less put to death. But the longer you delay it, (invokes) that old statement of 'justice delayed is justice denied,'" she said.

"You have to wait years and years and years and years before someone is finally put to death. The opposition (to S.553) is just another delay to not do the death penalty. We have the death penalty in this state. Exercise it."

Medlock said the extra week or so would allow lawmakers' constituents to engage in the debate.

"The fact that it has been delayed gives us more time to let the public know that this is going on," she said. "The public can contact the senators to let them know how they feel about it. ... Some people might be in favor of the bill, but I think in general, folks are against the idea of the government keeping secrets form us."

The organization argues that keeping lethal injection drugs secret would result in a greater risk of botched executions, and that information needed for any investigation would be hidden. Additionally, it says S.553 would give special secret status to drug companies, stifling scrutiny and public debate.

Justice 360 represents death row inmates and advocates for specific reforms aimed at addressing systemic flaws in the capital punishment process.

The death penalty in South Carolina:
  • No inmates were added and four were removed from South Carolina's death row, with no executions, in 2015.
  • At the end of 2015, there were 44 men and no women awaiting execution.
  • The last execution in South Carolina was in 2011 when Jeffrey Motts dropped his appeals. He had strangled his cellmate while serving life sentences for murdering 2 relatives.
  • Current death row inmates by race: 59 % black, 39 % white, 2 % Hispanic.

[source: Death Penalty Resource and Defense Center]

Source: blufftontoday.com, Feb. 19, 2016

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