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…

Wife of schizophrenic death row inmate keeps up the fight to stop his execution

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Court had earlier ruled that schizophrenia was not an illness

With hope in her eyes, the wife of a schizophrenic convict once again knocked the door of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, asking for a review petition before her husband's execution, which is scheduled to be held on November 2.

Safia Bano, wife of the convict moved an early hearing application for her husband case on October 31. "Demand that stay for death execution petition may kindly be heard on an urgent basis on October 31 because if the application is not heard on the same day then the petition would become infructuous and the husband of the petitioner would be hanged on November 2 in the early morning," Bano stated in her application.

Despite the pendency of review petition, a session court in Vehari issued the death warrant for Imdad Ali aged 50, who was awarded death penalty in 2001 over a shooting case. Imdad, the convicted, has spent 14 years on death row along with 3 years in solitary confinement in jail hospital due to paranoid schizophrenia, a seriously debilitating mental illness which he was diagnosed with in 2013.

According to National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), a federal agency for research on mental disorders in the United States of America (USA), schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. According to NIMH, people with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality and although schizophrenia is not as common as other mental disorders, the symptoms can be very disabling.

The medical report of Imdad described him as actively suffering from psychotic symptoms and a psychiatrist at the prison deemed him a treatment-resistant case. However, the top court last week in its 11-page judgment ruled that schizophrenia does not qualify as a mental disorder under the mental health laws - a verdict that cleared the way for his execution.

"In our opinion, rules relating to mental illness are not subjugative to delay the execution of death sentence which has been awarded to the convict," said the SC's verdict. Safia Bano, wife of the convict, had moved a review petition against dismissal of her petition. The review petition said that the SC had relied upon the Indian's court judgment, which was not applicable in Imdad's case, adding that Indian courts sought to address as to whether a convict was suffering from any mental disorder.

"But in this matter, the question is whether or not schizophrenia falls within the definition of 'mental disorder," it stated. The petition stated that schizophrenia is known to be the result of structural and biochemical changes in the brain and it is classified as a chronic and permanent mental disorder.

"Indeed, the petitioner's husband's medical records in prison reflect that he has consistently displayed symptoms of schizophrenia, and is not showing signs of improvement. He has active psychotic symptoms," stated the review petition.

It further stated that the mandatory provisions of Chapter 18 and Rule 362 of the Pakistan Prison Rules must be enforced in the case of an established case of mental illness in order to prevent a serious violation of fundamental rights.

Nearly 30,000 people have signed a petition calling on Pakistan’s President, Mamnoon Hussain, to grant mercy to Mr Ali, while the UN, UK, and a group of Pakistani psychiatrists have also raised concerns.

Source: Daily Times, October 29, 2016

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