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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…

Singapore: Heroin trafficker escapes the gallows

Singapore's Changi Prison
Singapore's Changi Prison
He gets life term after arguing drug addiction, mental illness impaired 'mental responsibility'

A 30-year-old heroin trafficker, who failed to escape the death sentence in three previous attempts, yesterday succeeded in getting the High Court to sentence him to life imprisonment instead.

Justice Choo Han Teck accepted the defence's argument that Jeffery Phua Han Chuan's ketamine addiction, coupled with a persistent depressive disorder, impaired his mental responsibility when he smuggled more than 100g of heroin into Singapore at Woodlands Checkpoint.

Phua was convicted in September 2011 by the same judge and given the death penalty, which was then mandatory for those convicted of importing more than 15g of heroin. His appeal against the conviction was dismissed in July 2012.

After exhausting the avenues of appeal, Phua filed two criminal motions in a bid to get his convictions overturned. His applications were dismissed in March 2014 and September last year.

In 2013, law amendments kicked in, giving judges the discretion to sentence drug couriers to life imprisonment instead of death, if certain conditions are met.

This gave death row inmates like Phua a chance to be re-sentenced.

Phua, represented by Mr Michael Chia, applied to be re-sentenced on the basis that he suffered an abnormality of mind that impaired his mental responsibility for his acts.

The prosecution accepted that Phua was a courier but disagreed that he had diminished responsibility. A hearing was held to hear psychiatric opinions from both sides.

Dr Munidasa Winslow, for the defence, and Dr Kenneth Koh, for the prosecution, both agreed that Phua had a persistent depressive disorder and ketamine addiction.

Dr Winslow said this "substantially impaired his judgment, impulse control and decision-making in agreeing to be a courier, without seriously thinking through the possible consequences of his actions".

Dr Koh disagreed. He said Phua was able to plan and perform complex, organised actions in committing the offence. Phua also agreed to import the drugs 2 weeks before the actual offence, so his decision to go ahead cannot be said to have been made on impulse, he added.

But Justice Choo said, given that Phua was a chronic ketamine abuser, his decision-making ability and impulse control would be impaired during the 2-week period. He concluded that Phua's mental illness and ketamine addiction did impair his mental responsibility for the act.

He said: "I am satisfied, from the facts and medical evidence... that the applicant was probably incapable of resisting any internal rationality that might have dissuaded him from committing the offence."

Source: straitstimes.com, April 22, 2016

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