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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…

Georgia to execute Joshua Bishop

Joshua Bishop
Joshua Bishop
ATLANTA (AP) - Georgia is preparing to execute a death row inmate convicted of beating another man to death in 1994.

Joshua Bishop is scheduled to die at 7 p.m. Thursday at the state prison in Jackson by injection of the barbiturate pentobarbital. The 41-year-old inmate was convicted in the June 1994 killing of Leverett Morrison in Milledgeville.

The State Board of Pardons and Paroles held a clemency hearing for Bishop Wednesday and on Thursday morning issued an order denying clemency. As is its custom, the board did not provide any reason for its denial, saying only that its members reviewed and considered the facts and circumstances in the case.

The parole board is the only entity in Georgia authorized to commute a death sentence.

Bishop also has a challenge pending in the courts. A Superior Court judge in Butts County, where Georgia's death row is located, on Tuesday rejected that challenge. Bishop's lawyers have appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court.

Bishop spent June 19, 1994, drinking and using drugs with Morrison and a third man, Mark Braxley. They drank at a bar that evening and then went to Braxley's trailer, where they continued to drink and use drugs.

Morrison fell asleep and Braxley decided he wanted to take Morrison's Jeep to visit his girlfriend and instructed Bishop to "get them keys," the clemency petition says. Morrison woke up as Bishop was trying to take his keys from his pocket, and Bishop hit him over the head with a piece of a closet rod to knock him out, the petition says.

Bishop told investigators he and Braxley both beat Morrison and, once they realized he was dead, they dumped his body between two trash bins and burned his Jeep.

While in police custody, Bishop told investigators he and Braxley also had killed another man, Ricky Willis, about two weeks earlier, also at Braxley's trailer. Bishop told police he repeatedly punched Willis after Willis bragged he had sexually assaulted Bishop's mother and then Braxley cut Willis' throat, killing him.

Bishop and Braxley were both charged with murder and armed robbery in Morrison's death. After a trial, a jury convicted Bishop and sentenced him to die. Braxley pleaded guilty and got life in prison. He's been denied parole twice and will next be eligible for consideration next year.

While Bishop confessed to his involvement in both killings, his lawyers argue that Braxley, who was 36 at the time, was the instigator and exerted his influence over Bishop, who was 19.

Bishop's lawyers also have said he had an extremely rough childhood, with a mother who constantly drank and used drugs and had a weakness for abusive men who beat her and her sons. He bounced between foster families and group homes and was homeless at times, they said.

Baldwin County Sheriff Bill Massee, whose office investigated the killings of Morrison and Willis, said the slayings were very violent and that he believes Bishop was the most aggressive. Massee said he also met this week with two daughters and a son of Morrison, who said they want Bishop to be executed.

Source: The Associated Press, March 31, 2016

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