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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…

Efforts to revive death penalty in California dealt another blow

San Quentin's death chamber
San Quentin's death chamber
California rejects proposed new death penalty rules

Efforts to revive the death penalty in California were dealt another blow late last month when a state agency tasked with reviewing regulatory changes rejected a proposed new lethal injection protocol.

The decision by the Office of Administrative Law came one day after the California Supreme Court blocked implementation of Proposition 66, an initiative passed by voters in November to expedite capital punishment, pending the outcome of a lawsuit.

In a 25-page decision of disapproval released on Dec. 28, the OAL cited inconsistencies and ambiguities in the protocol, insufficient justification for some regulations and a need for further response to public comments.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has four months to resubmit its proposal. Spokeswoman Terry Thornton said the department plans to fix the issues identified by the OAL.

Executions were halted in 2006 because of legal challenges alleging that California’s lethal injection method violated the constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

The corrections department began developing a new protocol last year that replaced its old three-drug cocktail with a 7.5-gram, single-drug dose of one of four barbiturates: amobarbital, pentobarbital, secobarbital or thiopental.

Among the questions raised by the OAL was why inmates would be injected with 7.5 grams of a barbiturate when corrections officials acknowledged 5 grams is a sufficiently lethal dose. It also asked for additional explanations on a $50 limit for inmates’ last meals and why inmates would be offered the option of taking a sedative before the execution begins.

The majority of the decision focused on ambiguities in the protocol that the OAL said needed to be clarified. These included the timeline for steps taken in the days and hours leading up to an execution, how to proceed if an inmate does not immediately die, what sedative options are available and who must administer them, what proposed monthly “security and operational inspections” of the execution chamber would entail, and under what conditions a warden should raise inquiry into an inmate’s sanity.

Source: The Sacramento Bee, Alexei Koseff, January 4, 2017

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