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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…

Wyoming to remain 1 of 5 states without hate crimes law; House votes down proposal to abolish death penalty

Wyoming will remain 1 of 5 states in the nation without a hate crimes law.

The state's House of Representatives handily voted down a bill Thursday that would have created extra penalties for violent crimes committed because of the victim's race, religion, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or national origin.

Rep. Charles Pelkey, D-Laramie, sponsored the proposal that would have increased prison time for the bias-motivated offenses by 25 %.

He said there should be stronger punishments for these types of crimes because they are more "egregious" than typical violent felonies.

"They are, in essence, an assault against the entire community," he said.

The proposal needed a 2/3 majority vote for it to be introduced. But it was defeated with only 10 of the 60 members supporting it.

Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, was among those who opposed the measure.

He said the extra punishments are not needed. And he said proving that a crime has a bias component would be a difficult task for judges or juries.

"I would submit to you that a murder is a murder," he said. "And if you kill someone or maim them, the penalties are severe enough."

Death penalty abolishment fails

The proposal was one of several bills that the House rejected Thursday - the 2nd-to-last day for the introduction of new bills.

The House also voted down a proposal to abolish the death penalty in the state.

Bill sponsor Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, said this would save the state money on costly trials and appeals and prevent a scenario where an innocent person is executed.

"The vast majority of countries have abolished the death penalty," she said. "So whether it's for moral or religious reasons or financial reasons to the state or counties, let's eliminate the death penalty."

But Rep. Bill Pownall, R-Gillette, said the death penalty can be meaningful for the victims or their families.

"Don't forget the victims in all these cases," he said. "That is one thing I think we are lacking."

Source: Tribune Eagle, Feb. 11, 2016

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