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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…

Study finds racial, gender bias in Ohio executions

Ohio's 53 executions shown "vast inequities" in racial, gender and geography, a new study concludes.

Research by Frank Baumgartner, a University of North Carolina political science professor, are not a revelation to those familiar with Ohio's death penalty, which resumed in 1999 after a 36-year hiatus. But it does underline a consistent pattern that has been pointed out in state, national and media reports for years.

Baumgartner looked at Ohio's 53 executions between 1999 and 2014, finding "significant and troubling racial, gender, and geographic disparities with regards to who is executed in Ohio." Baumgartner concluded that the victim's race and gender, and the county where the murder occurred, influenced whether or not the killer was executed.

"The most concerning finding is that these racial and geographic disparities are quite significant, and they demonstrate that Ohio's death penalty is plagued by vast inequities which will undermine public confidence in the state's ability to carry out the death penalty in a fair and impartial manner," Baumgartner concluded.

Sharon L. Davies, the executive director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University, said in response that the "race or gender of a victim, and the county of the crime, should not influence who is sentenced to die ... Ohio citizens and lawmakers should review the findings of this important research."

The study found in 65 % of all executions the murder victim was white. However, overall only 43 % of all victims are white. In addition, murderers of white females are 6 times more likely to be executed than those who kill black males.

Just 4 counties, Cuyahoga, Hamilton, Lucas and Summit, are responsible 1/2 of all executions. There are 69 of 88 counties where no one has been executed.

Hamilton County's execution rate is almost 9 times that of Franklin County.

Ohio Sen. Charleta Tavares, a Columbus Democrat, issued a statement condemning Ohio's death death penalty system.

"When you don't prosecute the death of black males as you do white females, you are essentially telling black males they are not worth as much, and that their lives do not matter," she said. "It is reminiscent of the darkest eras in American history, when the death of a white woman was seen as the ultimate crime that must be punished to the fullest extent of the law, but the death of a black male was not a cause for concern."

Source: Columbus Dispatch, Feb 1, 2016

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