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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…

Exonerated death row inmate challenges Hillary Clinton on her support for death penalty

Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton
Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton
Ricky Jackson of Ohio was just 18 when he was wrongly convicted of murder and imprisoned. Thirty-nine years later, he was exonerated after serving the longest-ever prison sentence for a crime he didn't commit.

On Sunday night, he stood in Columbus at a CNN town hall event to ask Hillary Clinton a question that has deeply personal ramifications.

"I spent some of those years on death row and," he said, before becoming overcome with emotion, "I came perilously close to my own execution."

"In light of what I just shared with you and in light of the fact that there are documented cases of innocent people who have been executed in our country, I would like to know how you can still take your stance on the death penalty," Jackson asked in one of the most powerful questions of the night.

Last year, Clinton made it clear that she does not support abolishing the death penalty, a position that has put her at odds with many liberals, including her Democratic presidential rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.).

On Sunday night, she specified that she believes the death penalty should be reserved for special cases, and cited the Oklahoma City bombing as an example.

"Where I end up is this: Given the challenges we face from terrorist activities primarily in our country that end up under federal jurisdiction, for very limited purposes, I think it can still be held in reserve for those," Clinton said.

She called Jackson's case a "travesty" and seemed deeply moved by his question, saying, "I can’t imagine what you went though."

"You know, this is such a profoundly difficult question and what I have said and what I continue to believe is that the states have proven themselves incapable of carrying out fair trials that give any defendant all the rights that defendants should have," Clinton said. "I would breathe a sigh of relief if either the Supreme Court or the states themselves began to eliminate the death penalty."

After Clinton's response, Jackson was asked whether he was satisfied by her answer and he responded "Yes."

Source: The Washington Post, Abby Phillip, March 13, 2016

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