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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…

Measure to repeal California's death penalty qualifies for the November ballot

California death row
California death row
California voters will be asked this fall whether to repeal the state's 38-year-old death penalty, as elections officials announced Friday that an initiative to abolish the law has earned a spot on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Backers of the initiative gathered almost 405,000 voter signatures, according to the final tally conducted by county elections officials.

The initiative, championed by former "M*A*S*H" actor Mike Farrell, would eliminate the death penalty for first-degree murder. The most serious punishment would become life in prison without the possibility of parole.

That would include the 743 inmates now on death row, the largest condemned population of any U.S. state and one beset with cases of extreme mental illness .

"Whether you look at the death penalty from a taxpayer, a criminal justice or a civil rights perspective, what is clear is that it fails in every respect," said Farrell in a written statement Friday evening. "We have to do better in California."

Only 13 inmates have been executed since the current law was enacted in 1978, with none in the last decade after legal challenges against the execution drugs administered by prison officials .

The initiative would require mandatory work while behind bars for those convicted of murder, with wages going to debts owed to crime victims.

The independent Legislative Analyst's Office has estimated that in the long run, the ballot measure would reduce state government expenses by as much as $150 million a year, due the elimination of legal challenges to death sentences.

A similar ballot measure, Proposition 34, was defeated by voters in 2012. A pro-death penalty initiative may also appear on the November ballot , after supporters also turned in signatures last month.

November's field of statewide propositions will probably produce the longest statewide ballot since March 2000 . Besides the two death penalty measures, voter signatures on eight other initiatives are now being checked. The deadline for Secretary of State Alex Padilla to certify the list of ballot measures is June 30.

Source: Los Angeles Times, John Myers, June 18, 2016

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