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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…

Georgia executes John Conner

John Conner
John Conner
Georgia executed John Conner on Thursday, ending a two-month death penalty hiatus for the United States. Conner was pronounced dead at 12:29 a.m.

Conner didn't make a final statement and declined to have a prayer said for him.

Conner becomes the sixth person executed by Georgia this year, putting the state on equal footing with Texas.

His lawyers on Thursday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to halt his execution. The state opposed Conner’s request.

Conner ate his last meal of fried fish, hush puppies and two deluxe hamburgers after spending several hours earlier in the day with three relatives, three friends, two members of the clergy and four from his legal team. At 3 p.m. he was given a physical and then his wait began.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied a stay shortly before midnight, clearing the way for the lethal injection of pentobarbital. The punishment had been scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, but the appeals process was still playing out.

Conner was sentenced to death 34 years ago. According to court documents, Conner, who was 25 at the time, went to a party with friends, where he drank and smoked pot. After returning home, Conner and another man, J.T. White, went for a walk with a near-empty bottle of bourbon, searching for more alcohol.

Conner claims that while they were walking, White remarked that he would like to have sex with Conner’s girlfriend, who they had left behind at the house.

“So I got mad and we got into a fight and fought all the way over to the oak tree and I hit him with a quart bottle,” Conner said. “I was down there at him right there in the ditch where he was at, and he was swinging trying to get up or swinging at me to try to hit me one. And there was a stick right there at me, and I grabbed it and went to beating him with it.”

Conner left White in the ditch, and returned home to tell his girlfriend they needed to leave town. Conner returned later to make sure White was dead.

Conner was sentenced to death for killing White, and later pled guilty killing another man: Jesse Smyth.
Conner’s attorneys asked the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to spare his life, pointing to his horrific childhood and violent father.

“For young John Wayne Conner, normalcy included extraordinary familial violence that frequently involved knives and guns; regular drug and alcohol abuse; and brutal physical, sexual and emotional abuse,” the clemency application read. “Having been raised in almost unimaginable circumstances of poverty and violence, Mr. Conner initially fell into the pattern modeled by those in his family.”

The Board of Pardons and Paroles denied clemency on Wednesday. Conner’s attorneys have also argued in court that he is intellectually disabled.

“After his arrest in 1982, he was evaluated at Central State Hospital following a jailhouse suicide attempt,” they wrote. “The evaluation revealed a suicidal man with a ‘history of mental illness’ exhibiting symptoms of schizophrenia, autism, ‘psychomotor retardation’ and severe drug and alcohol dependence.”

Attorney General Sam Olens’ office responded that “there has been no genuine change in the facts or the law since relief was denied in his prior” requests.

On Thursday, the Georgia Supreme Court declined to halt his execution. Two justices wrote that they would grant a stay of execution “solely to decide whether, under the specific facts and circumstances of this case, his execution more than 34 years after being sentenced to death would qualify as cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

Conner’s attorneys on Thursday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay his execution and to review the Georgia Supreme Court’s decision. The U.S. Supreme court declined to halt Conner's execution, Justice Breyer dissenting.

A second eleventh-hour request for a stay of execution was denied by the the U.S. Supreme Court late Thursday night, Justice Breyer dissenting.

Conner becomes the 6th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Georgia and the 66th overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1979.

Conner becomes the 15th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1437th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.


The first U.S. Supreme Court’s order denying
John Conner’s request for a stay of execution.

The second U.S. Supreme Court’s order denying
John Conner’s request for a stay of execution.


Source: Buzzfeed, Chris McDaniel, nola.com, July 14, 2016

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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

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