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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: Death penalty in our hands now

Nebraska: Gathering signatures against the death penalty repeal
Nebraska: Gathering signatures against the death penalty repeal
The death penalty debate has moved out of the Legislature and into the public square.

State senators in 2015 said repeal it, and they spoke with enough force to override a gubernatorial veto. Now, it's our turn to decide.

Conventional wisdom says Nebraskans will overturn the Legislature's decision and restore the death penalty by supporting a referendum in November to do just that.

But there's also a widespread hunch that this might not be a slam dunk, not really quite settled yet.

And so voters now will hear some of the same arguments that senators heard from supporters of death penalty repeal: It's costly, it's used so rarely that it's essentially unworkable and ineffective, it runs the risk of killing an innocent person who later is found not to have committed the crime.

And then there's the overriding issue of personal or religious belief: Do pro-life believers make exceptions? Or does the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, not only justify, but direct punishment by death if you kill another?

Lots of fundamental issues and important questions for Nebraska voters to weigh, just as their elected representatives did last year when they voted for repeal.

That decision startled many people in other parts of the country and made them reconsider some of their stereotypical views about Nebraska and Nebraskans. Some of your friends and associates in other states probably already have told you that.

On the other hand, that decision surprised and disappointed some people who looked on from afar, friends may also tell you.

In any event, it was noticed. It was news. Big change, unexpected, even startling, chronicled in New York newspapers and celebrated in Rome by bathing the historic Colosseum in white light.

On the other hand, it also was a decision that quickly mobilized death penalty supporters determined to reverse the Legislature's decision.

So now it's our turn as voters to decide.

TV ads are going to try to influence us, convince us, nudge us toward a decision.

Death penalty opponents probably are going to have to change minds if they hope to succeed, just as they did in the Legislature; supporters will make a case for deterrence and just punishment, pointing to heinous crimes.

The most compelling 30-second ads -- we'll probably see a ton of them -- could make a difference in moving the needle on voter consideration of this issue.

But this essentially is a private and personal decision and one that for most people probably already has been made.

The critical question is: Are there still open minds?

Source: Lincoln Journal Star, August 22, 2016





Source: Retain A Just Nebraska. Aug 17, 2016. For more, please visit: http://retainajustnebraska.com


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