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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…

Attorneys argue Indiana death penalty unconstitutional

Indiana's death chamber
Indiana's death chamber
Attorneys for a man who faces charges in the deaths of 7 women have argued in court filings that the state of Indiana's death penalty law is unconstitutional.

The Post-Tribune reports that Darren Vann remains in isolation at the Lake County jail. His attorneys argued in an Aug. 5 filing that an Indiana Code statute is unconstitutional in 2 main areas.

They question how a jury is supposed to weigh factors that could influence a death sentence. They also say it's unconstitutional to allow a judge to determine a defendant's death sentence when the jury can't.

Government prosecutors have until Sept. 7 to file a response to the claim.

Lake County prosecutors requested the death penalty for Vann last year.

Lake County prosecutors requested the death penalty for Vann last year. He faces charges in connection with the deaths of Anith Jones 35, of Merrillville; Afrikka Hardy, 19, of Chicago; Teaira Batey, 28, of Gary; Tracy Martin, 41, of Gary; Kristine Williams, 36, of Gary; Sonya Billingsley, 52, of Gary; and Tanya Gatlin, 27, of Highland.

If convicted, he could join 13 other people on death row in Indiana.

Kevin Charles Isom, the other man facing the death penalty in Lake County, also questioned the factors a jury is supposed to weigh before sentencing someone to death. The Indiana Supreme Court ruled against him in 2015.

The constitutionality of capital punishment is an issue the country has grappled with for decades as states have altered their death penalty laws.

"Pieces of things in the statute have been pulled off and changed (in Indiana)," said Andrea Lyon, dean of Valparaiso University Law School. "But Indiana Supreme Court and, thus far, any other federal court has not said that Indiana, generally, has been unconstitutional."

Delaware's highest court ruled its state's death penalty law was unconstitutional less than two weeks ago. It said it gave judges too large of a role over juries in imposing death sentences.

Vann's attorneys say in the motion that the situations in Delaware and Indiana are similar.

Source: Associated Press, August 21, 2016

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