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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…

Georgia Rep. Brett Harrell helps launch conservative anti-death penalty group

Georgia's death chamber
Georgia's death chamber
State Rep. Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, joined other conservatives on Thursday to launch a new statewide group aimed at ending the use of the death penalty in Georgia.

Video from the Georgia Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty's launch shows Harrell advocating for the use of life without parole over the death penalty. While some other speakers called for abolishing the death penalty, Harrell himself did not specifically call for that.

"The death penalty, I believe, is both constitutional and may be morally applied," Harrell said during the press conference. "That said, as a person of faith, I view the death penalty first from a standpoint of protecting the innocent rather than having a primary purpose of punishing the guilty.

"And with that in mind, we've evolved as a society in this nation, and in this state, to be able to protect the innocent through life without the ability of parole."

The legislator was joined by other Republicans and Libertarians, including former Fifth Congressional District GOP Chairman David Burge, former Athens-area Right to Life President Charles Jones, Foundation for Economic Education Chief Operating Officer Richard Lorenc, America's Future Foundation Atlanta Chapter chairwoman Jennifer Maffessanti and Mercer University College Republicans immediate past chairman Austin Paul.

Another Gwinnett native, Marc Hyden, also spoke a the group's launch. Hyden, a Collins Hill graduate, is Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty's national advocacy coordinator. He explained that the group is made up of conservatives who "feel the death penalty is inconsistent with our core values."

"The death penalty in its simplest form inherently and repeatedly risks innocent lives," Hyden said.

Harrell cited studies about the cost of keeping someone on death row, sometimes for decades, versus the cost of keeping someone in jail for life without the possibility of parole, saying the latter option was the more affordable one.

"As someone who is skeptical of large government, I like to make sure that the government is as efficient and as small as possible," he said. "And we've seen repeatedly since the re-institution of the death penalty in the '70s that people have been tried, convicted and sentenced to death row, and I believe 156 now have been exonerated, including 6 from Georgia.

"So the government has failed to provide an efficient, effective and accurate system in that regard."

Harrell also pointed to his position as a person of faith as a reason why he was concerned about the death penalty. He pointed to the Latin phrase "Imago Dei," a term often used in the pro-life movement that means "Image of God," as one basis for his belief that life without parole is a better alternative to the death penalty.

Pro-lifers take the stance that a person become the image of God when they are conceived and that a person's life should be preserved whenever possible, Harrell explained.

"As I pondered that, and you think throughout the life, even with someone who is the most heinous criminal and done the most repulsive and despicable thing you can imagine, as you ponder that, at what point is the Imago Dei, is the image of God, removed from that terrible person's soul," he said. "And the answer is clear: It is not."

Source: Gwinnett Daily Post, January 22, 2017

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