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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…

Texas: Family of Austin man on death row hopes new DNA analysis will reopen case

Family of Austin man on death row hopes new DNA analysis will reopen case
There are questions surrounding nearly 1,000 criminal convictions in Travis County.

Delia Perez Meyer says her brother, Louis Castro Perez, is among the death row inmates who received a Brady notice stating his case could be compromised due to new DNA information. Meyer hopes reanalysis will prove her brother's innocence.

"That picture's been sitting there for 18 years," Meyer says while pointing to the center of her kitchen table, where you'll find the center of her world. "It's 99.9 % of my life."

Meyer said defending her brother's innocence has become her life's work.

"We've just been fighting."

Perez is on Texas death row for the 1998 murders of 31-year-old Michelle Fulwiler, 38-year-old Cinda Barz and Barz's 9-year-old daughter, Staci Mitchell. The women worked for the Travis County Juvenile Probation Department, and evidence indicated Louis fatally beat the women with a cast iron skillet and strangled the young girl in their Austin home.

"I have never thrown away one shred of evidence that I thought may help my brother someday," Meyer says.

Now, some of the DNA evidence is under review. It was last fall when the Perez family and his attorney received a letter from the Travis County District Attorney's Office, outlining issues the Texas Commission on Forensic Science found with the way DNA was analyzed. It could impact cases across the state, including those like Perez's, where DPS analyzed the DNA evidence. 

Upon receiving the letter, Perez's attorney says she immediately requested a re-analysis.

"Now, 18 years later, Louis' case is not the only one that was possibly messed up."

As KXAN reported 2 weeks ago, legal experts say it was a change in scientific standards that's prompting the unprecedented statewide analysis. The issue is not with the actual testing of what are called DNA mixtures, but rather, with the probabilities scientists generate. Prosecutors often use these probabilities as evidence of the degree of the tests' conclusiveness.

DNA mixtures are cases where evidence from a crime scene contains 2 or more persons DNA profiles.

"I think the science evolved in the area of how to calculate the frequency that certain DNA profiles appear at random in the population," said Bob Wicoff, director of the Texas DNA Mixture Review Project.

Meyer says as she looks forward, she can't help but flash back to where it all began: in court, the day her brother was given the death penalty.

Her last words to her brother were, "I know at some point the truth is going to come out."

"And I think maybe we're closer to the truth now than ever before," says Meyer.

Source: KXAN news, September 17, 2016

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