FEATURED POST

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

Image
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…

As use of death penalty declines, the case for its repeal grows stronger

The Walls Unit, Huntsville, Texas
The Walls Unit, Huntsville, Texas
The death penalty is rare, even in Texas, where just seven executions were carried out this year. In some places, it's almost nonexistent. In Dallas and Harris counties, not a single death sentence was handed down this year.

This is good news.

Executions are costly. Their value in deterring would-be murderers and others from committing their crimes is small. And they are disproportionately carried out against persons of color. Of the nine men sentenced to death in Dallas or Tarrant counties since 2012, all are African-American. In Harris County, 15 of the 18 more recent death sentences have been handed down against black defendants, the other three against Latinos.

Worst of all, an execution is the outcome of an error-prone system, and one that simply can't be undone once carried out.

That insight was at the heart of the ruling 45 years ago next year in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the death penalty violated the Constitution.

"The penalty of death differs from all other forms of criminal punishment, not in degree but in kind," Justice Potter Stewart wrote in one of five concurring opinions in Furman vs. Georgia. "It is unique in its total irrevocability. It is unique in its rejection of rehabilitation of the convict as a basic purpose of criminal justice."

Four years later, the court ruled that with proper attention to racial fairness and other factors, the executions could resume. But ever since, Texas has had a starring role in demonstrating just how naive that second decision was.

It's distressing to note that support for the death penalty remains strong in many states, including Texas (though that support is at its lowest level in decades). There is hope in the fact that actual use of the death penalty is fading fast. 

In the past five years, 26 inmates on Texas' death row have been removed. Eighteen saw their sentences reduced. Seven died in custody. One was exonerated and released.

Even Texas' famously tough-on-crime Court of Criminal Appeals has grown far more careful when it comes to executions. In the past two years, the court has issued a total of 15 stays of execution. In the three years before that, it averaged just one per year.

Nationwide, the use of the death penalty is also at a low.

It's encouraging, too, to see Justice Stephen Breyer continue his sometimes-lonely crusade to convince the rest of the court to take up again, as they did in 1972 and 1976, the overall question of whether the Bill of Rights prohibits executions.

The penalty is so rare and so random in its application, it should no longer be tolerated: "Individuals who are executed are not the 'worst of the worst,'" Breyer wrote Dec. 12, "but, rather, are individuals chosen at random, on the basis, perhaps of geography, perhaps of the views of individual prosecutors, or still worse on the basis of race."

Source: Dallas News, Editorial, December 27, 2016
⚑ | Report an error, an omission; suggest a story or a new angle to an existing story; submit a piece; recommend a resource; contact the webmaster, contact us: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com.


Opposed to Capital Punishment? Help us keep this blog up and running! DONATE!

Most Viewed (Last 7 Days)

New Hampshire: More than 50,000 anti-death penalty signatures delivered to Sununu

Texas executes Juan Castillo

Texas: The accused Santa Fe shooter will never get the death penalty. Here’s why.

Mary Jane Veloso: The woman the firing squad left behind

Five executed in Iran, two hanged in public

The secret executions in Europe's 'last dictatorship'

Collection of items from the career of Britain's most famous executioner discovered

What Indiana officials want to keep secret about executions

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

China: Appeal of nanny's death penalty sentence wraps up