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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: 3 more prisons in state to have hanging area

Move comes as number of convicts facing death penalty now exceeds 50

With number of convicts facing death penalty in Maharashtra exceeding 50, the home department has decided to equip 3 more central prisons with the hanging area and a special ward for the "death penalty convicts". Till date, only 2 Maharashtra prisons -Yerawada and Nagpur - were designated to have convicts facing death sentence. However, now Taloja, Nashik and Kohlapur prisons will also have special wards designated for such convicts. Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab was the only exception who was kept in Arthur Road prison due to security concerns but was transferred to Yerawada prison a night before the execution.

As per sources, one of the key reasons for increase in the number of such convicts is the prolonged legal battles that defer hanging. All of these 50 odd cases are pending with some or the other court for appeal or have procured stay orders.

Waking up to the need of pushing things forward, jail officials in the last few months have written to the courts to hasten up decision in matters to reduce pendency.

"As per the Prison Act anyone facing death penalty has to be kept in isolation. His security has to be enhanced and has to be taken for medical check ups more often. All this add up to our expenses and work load but we have little choice than wait for the date of execution which is given by the courts," said a senior prison officer.

The last 2 executions in the state were that of Yakoob Memon and Ajmal Kasab. The classic example of delaying gallows by engaging the state in the legal hassle is that of the Gavit sisters.

It was in 2001, a Kolhapur sessions court had awarded death penalty to the Gavit sisters - Seema Gavit and Renuka Shinde - for abducting and killing a dozen odd children aged between 1 to 4 years. In next 14 years, their appeals were turned down and death penalty was upheld by all subsequent authorities including the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court. In April 2014 came the final blow for the sister duo when their mercy petition was rejected by the President of India.

Despite all of this, the sisters are still hopeful of respite and to stretch the legal discourse further the duo in August 2014 filed a fresh petition before the Bombay High Court citing "delay in execution" as the latest ground. Since then there is a stay on their execution and the case as expected is moving at a snail's pace.

The sisters are not alone, in last 3 years, President Pranab Mukherjee has rejected 24 mercy pleas (till July 2015) of which only three convicts - Yakub Memon, Mohd Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru - have been hanged till date. The remaining convicts have managed to procure stay on their hanging by moving fresh petitions before the respective high courts, primarily on the grounds of prolonged procedural delays in execution.

Source: Daily News & Analysis, May 31, 2016

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