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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…

Citing ‘flawed’ process, Dylann Roof lawyers again fight to toss death penalty

Dylann Roof
Dylann Roof
In another attack on the legality of the death penalty, Dylann Roof’s attorneys said this week capital punishment is so fraught with potential problems it shouldn’t be used in his case.

Roof, 22, has offered to plead guilty and accept a lifetime prison sentence in the June 2015 shooting that killed nine at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church. But federal prosecutors have pushed forward with the trial, seeking Roof’s execution on some of his 33 charges.

But as time passes, court rulings continue to limit how the death penalty can be applied, and further evidence has emerged showing how unfair it can be, Roof’s lawyers said Monday in a court document. To support their position, the attorneys included in their filing about 2,200 pages of court transcripts, research, news articles and opinion polls on the death penalty.

It’s time to reopen the discussion of whether the punishment is cruel and unusual under the Eighth Amendment, they said.

“The death penalty is unreliable, arbitrary, and so complicated that jurors frequently misapply it,” Sarah Gannett, an Arizona public defender on Roof’s defense team, said in the filing. “In a prosecution as consequential as this one, the court should not (allow) procedures that are proven to be flawed.”

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel already has reviewed written arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys on the death penalty’s constitutionality. Monday’s filing supplemented the defense team’s argument. Gergel has not ruled on the issue.

Initial jury selection procedures are scheduled to start Sept. 26 in downtown Charleston. The trial will follow Nov. 7.

Roof, who is white, is charged with hate crimes, religious rights violations and using a firearm in a violent crime. Authorities said he targeted the churchgoers because they were black. He penned manifestos about white supremacy, they said.

He is expected to be convicted when the case is tried, but the most contested portion of the proceeding will come during sentencing. That’s when prosecutors will present evidence of aggravation, such as the targeting of multiple vulnerable people or an intent to incite violence among others. Defense attorneys will highlight mitigating factors, such as any mental defects.

Prosecutors have said that detailed instructions can lead a jury to a fair finding. But Roof’s lawyers said they are concerned that the jurors will not follow the guidelines for weighing those factors.

“Because it cannot be implemented in a manner that avoids arbitrary, capricious and irrevocable results,” Gannett’s filing added, “the (federal death penalty) is unconstitutional and must be stricken as a possible penalty in this case.”

Source: Post and Courier, Andrew Knapp, September 13, 2016

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