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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…

SCOTUS Overturns Louisiana Death Row Conviction

Prosecutors failed to disclose evidence that could have helped his defense.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Monday reversed the 2002 murder conviction of a Louisiana death row inmate after ruling that prosecutors failed to disclose evidence that could have helped his defense.

The ruling came in the case of Michael Wearry, who was convicted in the 1998 death of a 16-year-old pizza delivery driver near Baton Rouge.

The justices said in an unsigned opinion that prosecutors should have turned over evidence casting doubt on the credibility of a prison informant and another witness who testified against Wearry. 

The court also said the state failed to disclose medical records raising questions about a witness' description of the crime.

Lower courts had rejected Wearry's post-conviction appeals.

Wearry was implicated in the case nearly two years after the victim, Eric Walber, was found lying face down on the side of a gravel road in a rural area of Hammond, Louisiana. Officials said Walber was beaten to death. Wearry claimed that he was at a wedding reception 40 miles away at the time of the murder.

The high court said the state's trial evidence "resembles a house of cards" built on the questionable testimony of a prison informant who other inmates said was seeking revenge against Wearry. It sent the case back for a new trial.

"Beyond doubt, the newly revealed evidence suffices to undermine confidence in Wearry's conviction," the court said.

Justices Samuel Alito filed a dissent joined by Justice Clarence Thomas. Alito said the jury might have convicted Wearry even with the additional evidence. He said the high court should have taken up the case on the merits to give the state "the opportunity to make its full case."

Source: The Associated Press, March 8, 2016

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