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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…

Frail Scots grandfather still held on death row in Pakistan under the country’s controversial blasphemy laws

THE family of a Scots grandfather held on death row in Pakistan for six years have called for Government action after a courtroom bid to free him collapsed last week.

Mohammad Asghar, 71, who is frail, blind and mentally ill, was convicted under the country’s controversial blasphemy laws.

His family in Edinburgh have been fighting for his death sentence to be lifted, which might allow him to be returned to Scotland.

However, at a hearing in Pakistan last week, prosecutors failed to appear.

His daughter Jasmine Rana yesterday told of her crushing disappointment and said she is terrified for both her father’s safety and health.

She said: “It’s so upsetting that it has come to nothing again. We’re back to waiting just because someone doesn’t turn up at court.

“All this time is getting wasted and in the meantime my dad is still in the same place.

“He has needed cataract surgery for over a year, he doesn’t get any exercise and he’s got no one to talk to.

“It feels like we’re just waiting around for bad news.

“Why did the Prime Minister say he would intervene two years ago? What has he done? Nothing.”

She accused the Government of failing the family by telling them to remain silent to protect behind the scenes efforts to release Mr Asghar.

But, she said, nothing has happened while her father languishes on death row.

“We were told to say nothing, remain silent, and let the officials talk to each other,” she said.

“We remained silent but can remain silent no longer. Words are easy but we need action and we need it now.

“Would he still be there if he was white? That is a question only David Cameron can answer but what do I think? No, he would not.”

Mr Asghar, a father of five, suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. He was jailed in 2010 after being accused of writing letters in which he claimed to be the prophet. The death sentence was handed down two years ago despite his lawyers’ claims he was mentally unfit to stand trial.

Lawyers were hopeful the new court hearing would finally begin a process that could see the threat of execution lifted. But the case did not proceed at all.

Mr Asghar remains in a secure hospital, held in isolation in a windowless room. His family have urged the Prime Minister to promise to protect liberal politicians who have called for a relaxation of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan.

Some have been assassinated and many more have been intimidated into silence.

Last week, a crowd of 100,000 zealots gathered for the funeral of religious assassin Mumtaz Qadri in Pakistan. He was executed for murdering one reformer. The former policeman gunned down Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab, who had criticised the country’s blasphemy laws and voiced support for a Christian woman who had been convicted of the charge.

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Source: Daily Record, March 6, 2016

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