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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…

Malaysia: Stop execution of prisoner due to be hanged on Friday

Malaysia
The Malaysian government must halt the execution of a 34-year-old man due to be hanged this Friday for murder, said Amnesty International.

Gunasegar Pitchaymuthu’s mother was today advised by officials at Taiping Prison, northern Malaysia, to visit her son for the “last time” and make arrangements for his funeral. Gunasegar Pitchaymuthu was convicted of murder, an offence which attracts the mandatory death penalty in Malaysia.

“Executing Gunasegar Pitchaymuthu would be a regressive step for human rights in Malaysia,” said Josef Benedict, Amnesty International’s Deputy Campaign Director for South-East Asia and the Pacific.

“The mandatory death penalty is a clear breach of human rights regardless of the crime committed. The authorities must step in to prevent this brutal act taking place before it is too late, and instead commute Gunasegar’s death sentence.”

Amnesty International has consistently criticized Malaysia’s practice of “secretive” executions. Information on scheduled hangings is not made public before, or even after, they are carried out - contrary to international standards on the use of the death penalty.

Instead, Gunasegar Pitchaymuthu’s mother Nagarani Sandasamy today received a letter from Taiping Prison officials informing her that he will be executed “soon” and advising her to visit him tomorrow morning. The family was also advised to discuss arrangements to claim the prisoner’s body for his funeral.

Nagarani Sandasamy last visited her son a week ago, when neither were aware that the 34-year-old was scheduled to be hanged just a week later.

Gunasegar Pitchaymuthu was sentenced to death for the fatal stabbing of a man in Sungai Petani, Kedah state, on 16 April 2005.

“As discussions on abolishing the mandatory death penalty in Malaysia continue, the Malaysian government must immediately put in place a moratorium on all executions as a first step towards full abolition of the death penalty,” said Josef Benedict.

Background

No information is made publicly available on individual death penalty cases in Malaysia, while families are often informed at the last minute that their loved ones will be executed.

Senior government officials recently said Malaysia was considering abolishing the mandatory death penalty, which is currently the punishment for crimes including murder and drug-related offences.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime, the guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual, or the method used by the state to carry out the execution.

The death penalty violates the right to life and is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

International law and standards prohibit the mandatory imposition of the death penalty as constituting arbitrary deprivation of life, as it denies judges the possibility of taking into account the defendant’s personal circumstances or the circumstances of the particular offence.

Source: Amnesty International, March 23, 2016

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