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…

Nebraska prisons chief gets new license for death penalty drugs, with 'no immediate plans' to use it

Nebraska's death chamber
Nebraska's death chamber
LINCOLN — Nebraska’s top prison official has obtained a new license to import foreign-made death penalty drugs but so far has taken no steps to use it.

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration issued the importer’s license to Scott Frakes, director of the State Department of Correctional Services, about two weeks after the Nov. 8 vote that reinstated the death penalty in Nebraska.

Frakes submitted the application Sept. 22, according to documents obtained this week by The World-Herald through an open records request.

“No new effort has been made to import lethal-injection drugs,” said Dawn-Renee Smith, spokeswoman for the Corrections Department, in response to follow-up questions. “There are no immediate plans to utilize the (importer’s) license. The license was renewed in the normal course of business.”

The detail comes about two weeks after the department proposed changes in how it carries out lethal injections. Among other things, the department wants to hide the identity of its drug supplier and allow the director to choose what drug or combination of drugs to use.

Smith said corrections officials are focused on the lethal injection protocol changes, which will be the topic of a Dec. 30 public hearing in Lincoln.

In 2015 the Legislature repealed the death penalty over the veto of Gov. Pete Ricketts. But last month, 61 percent of voters overturned the repeal and reinstated capital punishment.

Ricketts has said he will make every effort to carry out the will of the majority and proceed with the executions of the 10 men on Nebraska’s death row.

Although state officials have been vague about how they intend to obtain the drugs, the protocol changes seem designed to go through a domestic supplier, most likely an independent compounding pharmacy. Maintaining a valid importer’s license, however, would give prison officials another option.

Nebraska’s current lethal injection protocol requires the use of three drugs in a prescribed sequence. State officials have twice imported drugs from India, but the supplies expired before they could be used.

In 2015 Ricketts announced that the Corrections Department had purchased two of the drugs through the same broker in India. But the state’s attempt to import was thwarted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which said one of the drugs is no longer permitted for use in this country.

The broker, Chris Harris, has refused a demand for a refund. The Corrections Department has not taken additional steps to acquire the drugs it paid Harris to deliver, Smith said Thursday.

Danielle Conrad, executive director of the ACLU of Nebraska, has been a critic of the plan to shroud parts of the death penalty protocol in secrecy. She said the state’s acquisition of a new importer’s license prompts more questions than answers.

“The bottom line is this department and this process requires more, not less, transparency to ensure the constitutional rights of all are respected and that Nebraska’s long tradition of open government remains,” Conrad said.

Source: Omaha World-Herald, Joe Duggan, December 15, 2016

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