In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

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…

Does Nebraska need death penalty?

Time to retire unworkable penalty

We are former Nebraska judges united in our call to retain LB 268, which was passed by the Nebraska Legislature in 2015 repealing the state’s death penalty and leaving in place life imprisonment. Each of us is intimately familiar with our state’s legal system, and committed to seeing it function in an effective manner that protects Nebraskans. Our legal experience has led us to conclude that the death penalty is an unworkable and failed policy.

In the four decades since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, states have tinkered with death penalty statutes, repeatedly promising that they can fix them. The evidence is clear that they cannot. Here is the reason why: You cannot design an efficient system of capital punishment, which delivers punishment swiftly, while also avoiding the risk of executing the innocent. States that hold onto the death penalty end up with a government program that fails on both these fronts — it is inefficient and makes mistakes.

The death penalty prolongs and adds uncertainty to the legal process, often harming murder victims’ families. More death sentences are overturned than end in an execution. For those few death sentences ending in an execution, the average wait between conviction and execution is over 15 years, and sometimes much longer (as we have seen in Nebraska). Despite promises to the contrary, politicians cannot dramatically expedite this process. Because of past mistakes, death penalty cases must go through a complex federal appeals process, which state lawmakers can’t change. Death penalty cases thus force murder victims’ families to endure a prolonged and uncertain legal process. For them, the death penalty is a false promise.

The death penalty wastes resources that should go to measures that actually reduce crime. Death penalty cases are more complex, take more time, require more lawyers and therefore cost more money. There is no valid evidence that the money spent on the death penalty impacts murder rates. It is imperative, then, to dedicate our law enforcement dollars to measures that — unlike the death penalty — actually reduce crime.
The death penalty puts innocent lives at risk of execution. As judges, we strove to ensure that the innocent were protected and the guilty held accountable. At the same time, we recognize that judges and others in the criminal justice system are fallible. It is simply too much to expect perfection in any human institution — which is what the death penalty demands, since it is impossible to bring back the wrongfully executed. The over 155 death row exonerations nationwide, and wrongful convictions of the Beatrice 6 here in Nebraska, make clear that the death penalty should have no place in our fallible justice system.

The Nebraska Legislature recognized the problems inherent in capital punishment and a bipartisan super majority wisely voted to end it. It is important to respect and retain this decision, and not bring back a costly and broken government program.

Judge William Connolly, Nebraska Supreme Court justice, retired, 22 years on the Supreme Court bench; Judge Stephen A. Davis, District judge, retired, 20 years on the bench in Douglas County; Judge Sandra L. Dougherty, District judge, retired, 10 years on the bench in Douglas County; Judge Patrick Mullen, District judge, retired, 28 years on district bench in Douglas County; Judge Ronald Reagan, District judge, retired, 32 years on the bench in Sarpy County, sentenced John Joubert to death; Judge John Hartigan, District judge, retired, 20 years on district bench in Douglas County; Judge Merritt C. Warren, District judge, retired, 22 years on district bench in Knox County.

Source: nptelegraph.com, October 30, 2016

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