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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…

Closed-door inquiry resumes in bungled Oklahoma executions

A grand jury looking into drug mix-ups during the last 2 scheduled lethal injections in Oklahoma resumed its closed-door investigation Tuesday and could issue a final report as early as this week.

The multicounty grand jury directed by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt's office is scheduled to meet through Thursday in Oklahoma City. Grand jury proceedings are secret, and those subpoenaed to appear are admonished not to publicly discuss their testimony.

The panel is looking into how the wrong drug was used to execute an inmate in January 2015 and then delivered again to death row for a scheduled lethal injection in September that was halted just before the inmate was to die.

Pruitt said he won't request any execution dates for the 5 people so far on death row who have exhausted their appeals until at least 5 months after the grand jury investigation is complete and the results are made public.

Since Pruitt launched the investigation in October, three key state officials connected to Oklahoma's last several executions have resigned after showing up to testify - Oklahoma State Penitentiary Warden Anita Trammell, former Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton, and Gov. Mary Fallin's general counsel, Steve Mullins.

None have said their resignations were connected to the probe, and Pruitt declined to discuss the topic during an interview with The Associated Press this month.

"I think it's best just to let the grand jury process finish, and then if those matters need to be addressed in a grand jury report, then they will be addressed," Pruitt said then.

Internal Department of Corrections emails regarding Patton's resignation show the chairman of the agency's governing board, Kevin Gross, edited a news release announcing Patton's departure to remove any reference to the grand jury investigation. The emails, first reported by Buzzfeed News, show Gross told an agency spokesman in a December email to delete from the release a statement about Patton's resignation having nothing to do with the grand jury.

"We can talk about the grand jury," Gross wrote in the email. "But I don't think drawing attention to it will prevent them from coming to the conclusion."

The final version of the statement announcing Patton's resignation made no reference to the grand jury probe.

Oklahoma ranks second only to Texas in the number of executions carried out since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1976. The drug mix-ups followed a botched lethal injection in 2014 that left inmate Clayton Lockett writhing on the gurney and mumbling in an execution that Patton tried unsuccessfully to halt before Lockett died 43 minutes after the procedure began. An investigation later noted a faulty insertion of the intravenous line and lack of training of the execution team.

Meanwhile, former Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry announced this week that he will help lead a prominent group of Oklahomans in a comprehensive review over the next year on the state's use of the death penalty. Henry, a Democrat who oversaw dozens of executions during his 2 terms in office, will be joined as co-chair on the 12-member panel by retired Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Reta Strubhar and former U.S. Magistrate Judge Andy Lester.

That group plans to issue a report in early 2017.

Source: Associated Press, March 30, 2016

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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning