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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…

'Japan: Guilty Until Proven Innocent' documentary shines light on controversial legal system

In Japan, anyone can be held by police for 23 days without being charged.
"In Japan, anyone can be held by police for 23 days without being charged."
TOKYO — Japan is known for being one of the countries with the lowest crime rate in the world. Numerous reasons are given for this such as the illegality of weapons, a smaller wealth gap, or unspoken rules of conduct that people live by.
But one other factor behind such low crime could have a darker reason to it: fear of the Japanese legal system.

Al Jazeera news recently put out a documentary on that very subject, showing one of the scarier parts of Japan that most people don’t have experience with. The full video is below.

The documentary follows the story of Keiko Aoki, a woman who in 1995 was convicted of setting her house on fire and intentionally murdering her daughter to collect life insurance money. Her conviction was based solely on her and her husband’s written confessions that they claimed were made under extreme duress.

Keiko and her husband spent the next 20 years in jail, claiming they were innocent the entire time. It wasn’t until earlier this year that the verdict for their retrial was finally delivered, proclaiming them not guilty.

But why would someone confess to a crime they didn’t commit? Put simply, the documentary claims that the Japanese legal system is designed to extract confessions no matter what.

In Keiko’s case, she was held in an interrogation room with police investigators who constantly yelled and berated her for 12 hours straight. She was never allowed to see a lawyer. Eventually, she was told by police that her husband had already confessed to the crime, so she should too. Mentally destroyed, she gave up and wrote a confession dictated to her by police.

Keiko claims that confusion, exhaustion, and the guilt of not being able to save her daughter came together to make her admit to a crime she was innocent of.

In Japan, anyone can be held by police for 23 days without being charged. Lawyers are not allowed in interrogation rooms, and police are not required to record any of the interrogation sessions. As Hiroshi Ichikawa, a former Japanese prosecutor described, investigators can just rotate in and out as they get tired of questioning the suspect, until he or she is so mentally exhausted that they will admit to anything to make it stop.

But why is the Japanese legal system so intense when it comes to extracting confessions from the accused? Ichikawa claims it’s because there’s immense pressure on police and prosecutors to obtain a guilty verdict. In a country with a near universal conviction rate, no one wants to be the only lawyer who failed to get a guilty verdict, so they’ll do anything to get it.

The documentary is very enlightening about a part of Japan that is rarely discussed. If you want to watch the full documentary, check it out on Al Jazeera’s website or official YouTube page.

When it comes to false convictions and innocent people behind bars, Japan is not alone. The U.S. and other developed countries have just as many – if not more – legal problems. But the only way any of them can change is by getting the word out that there is a problem in the first place, and this documentary is a great first step in letting people know that the system that is supposed to serve them is broken.




Source: Japan Today, October 17, 2016

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