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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…

India's SC junks petition seeking abolition of death sentence

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to re-examine the Constitutional validity of death sentence in the light of the evolving jurisprudence across the world to do away with the extreme punishment and dismissed a plea seeking abolition of capital punishment.

A bench of Justices P C Ghose and Amitava Roy refused to entertain a PIL pleading the court to revisit the relevance of death sentence in a modern society on the ground that it failed to act as deterrent and resulted in violation of human rights.

According to National Crime Records Bureau, the total number of death sentences handed out by courts between 1998 and 2013 was 2052, an average of 132 a year. But in most of the cases, awarding extreme punishment could not get approval from the higher courts. The SC confirms barely 3 to 4 death sentences each year. Over 64 people were awarded death sentence by lower courts in 2014, according to Amnesty International's Death Penalty Report 2015.

Although death sentence has been executed only in 4 cases in the last 15 years, civil rights groups have been very vocal about its abolition terming it "barbaric and a form of judicial killing". Mumbai blast convict Yakub Memon was executed last year preceded by Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru (2013), 26/11 Mumbai attacker Ajmal Kasab (2012) and Dhananjoy Chatterjee (2004).

Advocate Mathews Nedumpara told the bench that the apex court in its various judgements had underscored the "vice" of arbitrariness in awarding death sentence. He told the bench that the 'rarest of the rare' theory, propounded by the SC 35 years ago, has been variedly and inconsistently applied which needed to be examined.

"There have been and always will be cases of executions of innocent people. No matter how developed a judicial system is, it will always remain susceptible to human failure," the petitioner said, adding, "At the time of Independence, the capital punishment was order all over the world, but with passage of time it came to be considered to be inhuman and it was abolished in all European countries."

Source: The Times of India, March 15, 2016

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