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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…

House committee moves Utah one step closer to abolishing the death penalty

A House committee on Tuesday moved Utah one step closer to abolishing the death penalty, despite the pleas from the families of victims whose killers sit on the state's death row.

SB189 passed on a 6-5 vote and will move to the full House for consideration with just two days left in the 2016 legislative session.

B189 would eliminate the death penalty as a punishment for first-degree felony murder, effective May 10, and leave life in prison without the possibility of parole, or 25 years to life as the remaining punishments. The bill would not affect the prosecution of any capital case already underway, nor stop Utah from carrying out the executions of the nine men currently on the state's death row.

Bill sponsor, Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, told the committee he sees three main reasons that Utah should no longer use the death penalty: The costs of appeals; the decades between conviction and execution, which causes suffering for the family of victims and the imperfection of governments, which have sometimes executed innocent persons.

"Theoretically, the death penalty, it probably makes some sense," said Urquhart, who previously favored capital punishment. "But in reality, in Utah, the death penalty makes absolutely no sense."

On average, it takes nearly 25 years for those on Utah's death row to be executed following conviction and a 2012 study found that costs the state roughly $1.6 million per inmate, which far exceeds the amount spent on inmates sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, he said.

National statistics suggest that roughly 4 percent of all death row inmates were wrongly convicted.

Urquhart said he understood that the families of victims are divided on their support of capital punishment.

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Source: The Salt Lake Tribune, Jennifer Dobner, March 8, 2016

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