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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…

Texas judge voices doubts on death penalty

Judge Elsa Alcala
Judge Elsa Alcala
A judge on the state’s highest criminal court, which has the last word on Texas death penalty cases, believes it’s time to reassess whether capital punishment should be allowed to continue in the nation’s most prolific state for executions.

Judge Elsa Alcala, a five-year member of the Court of Criminal Appeals, this week filed an opinion saying she has “great concern” over the way Texas implements the death penalty.

Death row inmates, the Republican judge wrote, have raised compelling arguments about falling support for the death penalty, noting that a majority of states now decline to execute inmates either by law or by practice — a change from 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to resume executions after a four-year hiatus based in part on support for executing convicted murderers shown by 36 states.

In addition, Alcala wrote, Texas courts should study whether the death penalty is unconstitutional because it is arbitrarily imposed by race, disproportionately affecting minorities, and whether excessive delays in imposing the ultimate sentence results in cruel and unusual punishment because inmates are held in solitary confinement for years, if not decades.

“I think there are, as I said in that opinion, significant problems with the death penalty,” Alcala told the American-Statesman. “There are lots of problems, and I think the public is not aware of the problems.”

“If you ask me how good is Texas at carrying out the death penalty, I am unconvinced,” Alcala said in an interview. “We see cases over and over again where 10, 20 years later you find problems,” including mistaken witness testimony, exonerations based on previously unavailable DNA tests and scientific advancements that call earlier expert testimony into question.


Source: My Statesman, Chuck Lindell, June 17, 2016

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