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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 aging inmates, Ohio says it will again move death row

Ohio's death chamber
Ohio's death chamber
Ohio is moving its death row for the third time in little over a decade, this time because of the growing number of aging inmates serving death sentences, state prison officials said Friday.

Death row will go from Chillicothe in southern Ohio to the Toledo Correctional Institution, a trip of more than three hours. Toledo's prison is newer and designed to handle inmates with physical and mobility limitations, including those in wheelchairs, the state said.

The state will relocate 126 death row inmates in the "near future," said prisons department spokeswoman JoEllen Smith. She said she couldn't provide exact details because of security reasons. Three other inmates at a medical facility in Columbus are being evaluated to see if they are healthy enough to be transferred.

The average age of Ohio's death row population is just under 50, with inmates' ages ranging from 21 to 75.

Executions still will be carried out at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.

Ohio said earlier this month that it plans to resume executions in January following an unofficial moratorium of nearly three years that was blamed on shortages of lethal drugs.

The state hasn't put anyone to death since January 2014, when Dennis McGuire repeatedly gasped and snorted during a 26-minute procedure using a never-before-tried two-drug combo.

Prison officials also hope the switch will help reduce crowding at the Chillicothe prison and other sites across the state. Areas now used to hold death row inmates in individual cells could be converted to double-bunked cells that could house twice as many high-security inmates.

The prison system's total population has increased 15 percent in about the last 12 years, according to a Correctional Institution Inspection Committee report from May. Overcrowding rates also are up. Currently, Ohio has almost 51,000 in its prison system.

Death row was moved from the supermax prison in Youngstown, where it had been since 2005, to the Chillicothe Correctional Institution at the beginning of 2012.

The state said the move to Chillicothe would save money by bringing inmates facing execution closer to the death house in Lucasville.

The union representing Ohio prison guards and other workers said the shift would disrupt the consistency for the staff, the inmates and their families.

"You keep shuffling all these guys around in the system, and it just puts more hardships on everyone," said Chris Mabe, president of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association.

The state didn't have a firm estimate on how much the move to Toledo would cost. Smith said it wasn't "a fiscal decision" but rather one designed to increase safety and security while reducing density at the prisons.

The agency said the decision was made as part of its routine review of how it manages its inmate population.

Staffing in Chillicothe isn't expected to change, but more workers will be hired in Toledo, the state said.

To make room for death row inmates in Toledo, about the same number of inmates will be relocated to other facilities, Smith said.

The move is the fourth overall for Ohio's death row since the state re-enacted capital punishment in 1981.

Source: The Associated Press, October 21, 2016

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