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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…

Mauritanian court upholds death sentence for 'blasphemous' blogger

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An appeal court in the west African state of Mauritania has upheld the death sentence of a blogger accused of blasphemy, a judicial source told AFP on Thursday.

Cheikh Ould Mohamed Ould Mkheitir, who has also been named as Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed, was initially handed the death sentence in 2014 on charges of "apostasy".

The appeal court on Thursday upheld the sentence but downgraded the charge from apostasy to the lesser charge of being an "infidel" after the blogger repented, the source said.

The source added that Mkheitir could still be pardoned by the Supreme Court "if they find that his repentance is sincere".

The accused, aged in his thirties, was arrested in 2014 after uploading an article onto the internet that authorities considered blasphemous.

The original announcement of the death penalty was met with public celebrations in two Mauritanian cities.

Rights watchdog Amnesty International has designated Mkheitir "a prisoner of conscience".

"He wrote a post on a blog criticising people who use religion as a means of discrimination and injustice," said Gaetan Mootoo, a west African specialist at Amnesty International.

He was "jailed for having exercised his right to free speech in a peaceful manner," Mootoo added.

Source: Agence France-Presse, April 22, 2016

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