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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…

Nebraska Law Enforcement Speak Out Against the Death Penalty

"Overwhelming evidence that the death penalty doesn’t prevent violent crime"
"Overwhelming evidence that the death penalty doesn’t prevent violent crime"
“There are many law enforcement professionals who agree with me there’s no public safety benefit to the death penalty” Frm Lincoln Police Chief, Allen Curtis

“The process drags on for decades, and the victims we want to help are caught in the middle.” Amy Jacobsen, current Deputy Douglas County Attorney

OMAHA, NE – Today, a group of law enforcement professionals, current and former police, prosecutors, correctional officers, and judges, many with direct experience with capital cases and Nebraska’s death penalty, released a series of statements condemning Nebraska’s death penalty.

According to Darold Bauer, campaign manager for Retain a Just Nebraska, for a variety of reasons and from various professional perspectives, these law enforcement experts said Nebraska’s death penalty is broken beyond repair and Nebraska will be better off if voters uphold the Unicameral’s replacement of the death penalty with life in prison.

“Many of these professionals cited overwhelming evidence that the death penalty doesn’t prevent violent crime. In 2012 the National Academy of Sciences examined over 30 years of deterrence studies and concluded there is no evidence that the death penalty decreases murder rates,” Bauer said.

Fr. Greg O’Meara, Creighton University law professor who prosecuted Jeffrey Dahmer, explains, “Most people commit murders in a fit of passion, they do so quickly without thinking about it, and they don’t think they’re going to get caught. And since they don’t think they’re going to get caught, they won’t worry about the penalty.”

Allen Curtis, former Lincoln Police Chief, former Director of the Nebraska Crime Commission, and member of the Nebraska Police Officers Association Hall of Fame, notes, “There are many law enforcement professionals who agree with me there’s no public safety benefit to the death penalty. In 1995 and 2008, 500 police chiefs across the country were asked to rank what tools they found most effective for preventing violent crime. In both of these surveys the death penalty was ranked absolutely last. Chiefs recognized that more officers on the street, reducing drug abuse, or having effective programs for the mentally ill were much more likely to reduce crime than having or increasing the use of the death penalty.”

Several of the Nebraska law enforcement professionals speaking out against Nebraska’s death penalty have direct experience with Nebraska capital cases.

Joe Jeanette, a 45-year law enforcement veteran was a detective on the John Joubert capital case. Jeanette maintains, “It’s irresponsible to keep in place an expensive death penalty that doesn’t keep us any safer. We should keep the death penalty gone, and invest the millions we will save in more officers on the streets.”

Judge Ronald Reagan was on the three judge panel that sentenced Joubert to death, and says many of his colleagues on the bench shared “the hope that sometime the Legislature would simply abolish the death penalty”.

Many of the law enforcement experts said it was irresponsible to invest resources in our broken death penalty system instead of prioritizing law enforcement needs.

Past President of the National Black Police Association, Leslie Seymore from Omaha said, “The exorbitant costs of capital punishment are actually making Americans less safe because badly needed resources are being diverted from proven, effective crime fighting strategies such as community policing.”

Also of Omaha, current police officer and former Nebraska correctional officer, Martin Peterson said, “I for one would like to see all that money spent on the death penalty to be paid to not only correctional officers, but to the other professions that help run the prisons.”

A recent study by conservative Creighton economist Dr. Ernie Goss estimates the death penalty costs Nebraska $14.6 million annually. In September the Nebraska Department of Corrections submitted a budget showing a need for an additional $20 million. Recently, Governor Ricketts said state agencies should prepare for an 8 percent budget cut which the State Patrol said would force them to eliminate 28 paid officer positions.

Nebraska’s history of mistakes and the possibility of executing the innocence were also of concern to these Nebraska law enforcement professionals.

J. Patrick Mullen, retired district judge who served 28 years on the district bench in Omaha, said, “We have all seen the cases of coerced confessions, tampering with blood evidence, and other gross miscarriages of justice. While these are legitimate concerns, they don’t address an underlying reality: people make mistakes. The best judges, juries, prosecutors and police, doing their very best, can still make mistakes and convict an innocent person. This isn’t acceptable when someone’s life is on the line,” Mullen said.

Randall Ritnour was the Gage County Attorney who investigated the Beatrice 6 wrongful conviction case, “It happened right here in our backyard. We can't say that it's not possible to make a mistake, because we did. We made a huge one."

Additional concerns included the harm that comes to victims’ families because of the length of Nebraska’s capital cases.

Amy Jacobsen, current Deputy Douglas County Attorney notes, “Finality seems to be something we can’t give people with the death penalty. The process drags on for decades, and the victims we want to help are caught in the middle.”

The public safety officials who have spoken out against Nebraska’s death penalty represent decades of law enforcement leadership and expertise.

Source: Retain a Just Nebraska, October 17, 2016

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