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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…

Nebraska: 25-Year Criminal Prosecutor says Beatrice Six Case Caused him to Oppose Death Penalty

“It is never acceptable to risk killing innocent persons for the sake of being tough on crime.”

LINCOLN, NE – A 25-year, tough-on-crime, criminal prosecutor who supervised the 2008 DNA testing that freed the Beatrice Six, says Nebraska’s death penalty should be replaced with life in prison without the chance of parole.

Previously a staunch supporter of the death penalty, former Gage County Attorney Randall Ritnour said overseeing the largest false confession case in U.S. history, caused him to change his mind on the death penalty.

“It was an astonishing discovery that led to my decision to oppose the death penalty,” Ritnour said.

A federal court jury on Wednesday awarded a $28 million verdict for a reckless investigation that sent the wrong people to prison for the 1985 rape and homicide of 68-year-old Helen Wilson. James Dean, Kathleen Gonzalez, Debra Shelden, Ada JoAnn Taylor, Thomas Winslow and Joseph White served a combined 77 years in prison. They were the first people in the state cleared by DNA evidence.

“I was an aggressive, no-nonsense prosecutor. My experience with the Beatrice Six case has convinced me beyond all doubt that it is possible to come to the wrong conclusion in a criminal investigation and that it is possible to convict innocent persons of a capital crime,” he said.

“Had it not been for the fact that some of the Beatrice Six had made plea agreements and received lesser sentences, it is likely that some or all of them would have been sentenced to death and perhaps executed before the truth was discovered. The prosecution, in fact, suggested that a death sentence was appropriate and desired,” he said.

“As a proud citizen of this state, it is never acceptable to risk killing innocent persons for the sake of being tough on crime. It is simply not who we are nor who we should wish to be.”

Source: Retain a Just Nebraska, July 8, 2016

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