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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 Supreme Court rejects challenge to death penalty petition drive

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts
Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts
The Nebraska Supreme Court has rejected a legal challenge of a ballot question that asks voters to reinstate the death penalty.

Lawyers for death penalty opponents had argued a successful petition drive was legally invalid because organizers failed to list Gov. Pete Ricketts as a sponsor. 

Ricketts and his family gave $300,000 to the petition drive in 2015 after the Nebraska Legislature overrode the governor's veto of death penalty repeal legislation.

"The alleged failure to include his name in the list of sponsors did not make the referendum petition legally insufficient," Judge Lindsey Miller-Lerman wrote in the court's opinion. 

The high court upheld the decision of Lancaster County District Judge Lori Maret.

The legal requirement to list sponsors is intended to let voters know which individuals, organizations or corporations are behind a petition drive before signatures are collected.

Friday's ruling paves the way for the ballot question to appear before voters when they go to the polls Nov. 8.

Source: Omaha World-Herald, July 8, 2016


High court: Ricketts not a 'sponsor' of death penalty referendum

Death penalty opponents lost a bid Friday to keep the question of whether the ultimate penalty should return to Nebraska off the ballot in November.

Christy and Richard Hargesheimer of Lincoln had sought an injunction to keep Secretary of State John Gale from placing the question on the ballot, saying the petition drive that gathered some 169,000 signatures failed to disclose Gov. Pete Ricketts as a sponsor.

But the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state and a pro-death penalty group, which argued that Ricketts wasn't a sponsor, despite the fact that he and his father contributed 1/3 of the $913,000 raised by Nebraskans for the Death Penalty and his close allies took roles to promote it.

In Friday's order, Supreme Court Justice Lindsey Miller-Lerman said sponsors are individuals or entities who assume responsibility for the initiative or referendum process, so Ricketts would not be required to be listed as one.

Lawmakers didn't define "sponsor" or say what it meant to sponsor a petition in the statute, which left it a question for the court to decide.

Attorneys for the Hargesheimers contended it was important for the public to know about Ricketts' contributions, both financial and otherwise. But the state's high court found that the disclosure of financial backers was met by other statutes that require their identification.

And the court affirmed Lancaster County District Judge Lori Maret's dismissal of the suit in February.

Source: Lincoln Journal Star, July 8, 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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