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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…

Malaysia government open to replacing death with life

Three Mexican brothers sentenced to death in Malaysia for drug trafficking in 2012
Three Mexican brothers sentenced to death in Malaysia for drug trafficking in 2012
While the study on whether to keep the death penalty is ongoing, the Government is open to proposals on the matter.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Nancy Shukri says the Government is considering suggestions to improve the current justice system including whether to replace the death penalty with life imprisonment, as mooted by several parties including the Malaysian Bar.

"I really want to see the amendment to the mandatory death penalty be passed and implemented prior to the 14th general election," she tells Sunday Star.

Nancy, who is the minister in charge of law, points out that the study requires a long time as a very comprehensive review needs to be carried out.

The Government needs to balance the interest of the accused, victim and public at large before making a decision.

"Whatever decision made will be done in the best interest of the rakyat," she says.

Presently, the Attorney-General's Chambers is conducting an in-depth study on the death penalty in Malaysia, studying the legal issues, policies and effectiveness of the punishment.

Concurring with Amnesty International's call to abolish the death sentence, the Malaysian Bar hopes that it can be replaced - with life imprisonment instead.

Bar Council Human Rights Committee co-chairman Andrew Khoo says the Bar has passed several resolutions over the years, calling for capital punishment to be done away with.

"We also call upon the Government to repeal all mandatory death sentences, because judges should be given the discretion in sentencing," he urges.

He explains that mandatory sentencing robs judges of the opportunity to exercise their discretion to hand down other forms of punishment apart from the death penalty.

"It is an executive interference in the independence of the judiciary," Khoo adds.

He also says the Government should release the findings of the study conducted on the death penalty once it is completed.

There are some who believe the death sentence should remain.

Former Court of Appeal judge Datuk Seri Shaik Daud Md Ismail stresses that Malaysia still needs the current mandatory death penalty for serious offences like drug trafficking and murder.

"Things should remain as per status quo. If we abolish the death sentence, there will be more crimes like drug trafficking.

"Although the death penalty has not reduced such cases in the past, removing it will only cause the number of cases to spike drastically," he opines.

Shaik Daud, once a prosecutor with the Attorney-General's Chambers, believes the death sentence is a deterrent and doing away with it will only embolden more criminals.

He also says that the death penalty should continue to be made mandatory for serious crimes such as terrorism and drug trafficking.

"In the past, before the death sentence was made mandatory for drug trafficking, judges had the option of handing down life sentences as an alternative.

"When I was prosecuting in such cases last time, most judges went for the alternative but it wasn't a strong deterrent," he says, adding that the Government later decided to do away with the alternative punishment and imposed the mandatory death sentence.

It is also more practical for the Government to keep the death sentence, he says.

"If we change all death sentences to life imprisonment, the Government would have to bear the costs of housing and feeding them (the convicted) to look after them for the rest of their lives.

"Why should tax payers be burdened by this when the criminals have done heinous crimes?"

Shaik Daud notes that such prisoners would have time to reflect on their deeds before their execution.

Senior lawyer Tan Sri Khalid Ahmad Sulaiman says the death penalty should be used based on circumstances and only if the intent to commit serious crimes especially murder, is proven.

"Otherwise, it should be replaced with life imprisonment," says the former Advocates and Solicitors Disciplinary Board chairman.

Source: The Star, June 19, 2016

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