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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…

Silicon Valley’s Powerful Steer Cash to Death Penalty Repeal Bid

San Quentin's death row
San Quentin's death row
Some of Silicon Valley’s biggest names are pouring money into an effort to overturn California’s death penalty as support for capital punishment has declined to the lowest in decades.

Reed Hastings, the billionaire chief executive officer of Netflix Inc., donated $1 million, and Salesforce.com Inc. CEO Marc Benioff gave $50,000 to support a measure on the November ballot that would replace death with a life sentence without parole. Seven wealthy donors from technology companies have contributed the bulk of the $4 million raised so far.

“My objection to the death penalty is not based on some abstract principle that it’s bad to kill people,” said Paul Graham, co-founder of Y Combinator, Silicon Valley’s largest startup factory, who contributed $500,000. “It’s because so many of the people who get executed are actually innocent. If you look at the way some of these trials are conducted, it’s shocking.”

Technology executives increasingly are using clout and deep pockets to take socially liberal stands on issues such as gun control and same-sex marriage. They’re stepping in where efforts by Democratic lawmakers have failed, with contributions to voter initiatives and threats to withdraw business in states passing laws they find objectionable. Their involvement is a reflection of the leanings of their millennial workers and represents a shift from a corporate mindset of avoiding controversy to keep from alienating customers.

The issue is up for a vote in three other states. Nebraska will consider a repeal referendum. In Michigan, voters will decide whether to allow it as punishment for the murder of police or corrections officers. Oklahoma voters will consider a proposed amendment to the state constitution to reinforce the state’s capital punishment policies.

Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs’ widow Laurene Powell Jobs, John O’Farrell, a partner at Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, and Ron Conway, an early investor in Twitter Inc. and Google Inc., also donated to California’s repeal measure, according to data compiled by Maplight. Each declined to comment.

This isn’t the first time the fate of capital punishment has been on the state’s ballot. In 2012, a similar initiative failed 48 percent to 52 percent, even though repeal supporters outspent opponents 18-to-1, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

“This is by no means a sure bet,” Sonenshein said. “The death penalty has strong pro and con sides, and it does not neatly break down with most centrist and liberal voters being relatively united on, say, gay marriage or the minimum wage.”

The proposal is among 17 measures on California’s November ballot, including a competing question that would expedite death-penalty appeals and require offenders to pay restitution to victims’ families. The competing measure has raised $3.6 million, including $3.3 million from supporters.

Worst Criminals

“I assume those people have never had to deal with the tragedy of having a family member murdered or having to be a member of law enforcement who have to deal with the worst of the worst criminals,” Jeff Flint, campaign manager for the competing initiative, said of the tech donors.

Most of California’s death-row inmates never see the inside of the lethal-injection room. More than 900 have received a death sentence since California voters reaffirmed the death penalty in 1978. The last execution, that of 76-year-old Clarence Ray Allen, happened a decade ago after he served 23 years.

More inmates -- 25 -- have committed suicide than have been executed and 71 died of natural causes since 1978.

The repeal would save about $150 million annually, including $50 million for the cost of appeal, according to a November report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

“It’s a multi-billion dollar operation with nothing but lawyers employed on both sides," said Franklin Zimring, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley. “There hasn’t been an execution in a decade. Good lawyers have fought the system to a draw."

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Source: Bloomberg, July 20, 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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