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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…

Taiwan executes subway killer

Cheng Chieh
Cheng Chieh
Taiwan on Tuesday executed a former college student who killed 4 people in a random stabbing spree on a subway 2 years ago, in an attack which horrified the generally peaceful island.

Cheng Chieh, 23, was anaesthetised (1) then shot 3 times by a firing squad (2) at a jail outside Taipei a little before 9pm (9pm Singapore time), deputy justice minister Chen Ming-tang told reporters.

"Death was the only way to show publically that justice had been served and to relieve the sorrow and pain of victims' families," he said.

Cheng was sentenced to death last year for killing 4 people and injuring another 22, in the first fatal attack on the capital's subway system since it launched in 1996.

His execution surprised many, however, as it came less than 3 weeks after the supreme court upheld the death sentence despite last-ditch efforts by rights groups.

Among the victims of the attack in May 2014 was a man named Hsieh Ching-yun. His mother said she was "glad" Cheng had been executed.

"Losing my son is a pain that will last forever, for the rest of my life," she told the TVBS cable news network.

Prosecutors sought the death penalty for Cheng, saying psychological evaluations showed that he was not suffering from any mental disorder when he committed the crime.

Cheng, who pleaded guilty to the charges, was expelled by his university after the attack and was described by prosecutors as "anti-society, narcissistic, immature and pessimistic".

Local media said he had been obsessed with gory online games and had written horror stories.

Cheng's parents had asked for him to be sentenced to death, calling their son's actions "unforgivable".

The incident shocked Taiwan, otherwise proud of its low levels of violent crime, and resulted in several minor injuries as edgy commuters fled trains over false alarms in the following week.

There are currently 42 prisoners on death row in Taiwan, all of whom will face a firing squad when they are executed.

Hundreds of Taiwanese rallied in April (2016) to show support for retaining the death penalty after the beheading of a four-year-old girl on March 28 near a Taipei metro station.

The attack was carried out by 33-year-old man who had previously been arrested for drug-related crimes and had sought treatment for mental illness.

Taiwan resumed capital punishment in 2010 after a five-year hiatus. But executions are reserved for the most serious crimes such as aggravated murder and kidnapping.

Some politicians and rights groups have called for its abolition, but various opinion surveys show majority support for the death penalty.

In 2012 the murder of a 10-year-old boy in a playground reignited debate over the death penalty, after the suspect reportedly said he was anticipating free board and lodging in jail and would get a life sentence at most even if he were to kill 2 or 3 people.

(1) "Cheng said he was in fear of feeling pain, so a general anaesthesia was administered to him by medical staff and, after falling unconscious, he was placed face down on a mattress. The executioner shot him from behind, targeting a marked-out circle indicating his heart. It took three shots before the coroner verified Cheng’s death, officials said." - Taipei Times, May 12, 2016. Although officials cited Cheng's fear of pain as the reason for sedation, that is, in fact, standard procedure (obviously minimizes the messiness of prisoner resistance). 

(2) Taiwan does not use a firing squad. "All executions are carried out by gunshot, with a single gun fired at close range at the inmate’s heart from behind. For prisoners who have agreed to donate organs, the gun is aimed at the back of the head. The condemned lies face down on a mattress on the floor and a medical practitioner marks where his heart is. The prisoner is shot from behind three times at close range. For an inmate who has agreed to allow organ harvesting, the condemned lies in a plastic bath [sic] and is killed by a pistol shot to the back of the head. Inmates are sedated prior to execution." - Death Penalty Database: Taiwan.

Source: straitstimes.com, May 10, 2016

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