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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…

Texas: A Death Sentence for $1.25

John Henry Ramirez
John Henry Ramirez
John Ramirez goes to the gurney for a murder committed during a robbery

John Henry Ramirez, 32, gets Texas' next dose of lethal injection on Thursday, Feb. 2. He was sentenced to death in 2008 after murdering Pablo Castro in Corpus Christi during an alleged robbery.

In July 2004, Ramirez and 2 female friends jumped Castro outside of the convenience store where he worked. Nueces County prosecutors charged that Ramirez and his friends spent the night cruising around town looking to rob people for drug money when they spotted Castro taking out the trash. Ramirez attacked the store clerk with one accomplice, beating him, and stabbing him 29 times. They also allegedly stole $1.25 from Castro's pockets before returning to the van where the other accomplice waited. A police chase ensued, but Ramirez escaped. His 2 friends were caught, and eventually testified against him.

Ramirez evaded arrest for 4 years, spending time in Mexico, where he became a father. He eventually returned to Texas with his family, and was arrested in 2008. Ramirez pleaded not guilty, but the jury returned a quick guilty verdict. DNA evidence found Castro's blood in Ramirez's van; strands of Ramirez's DNA were found on Castro's body. During the punishment hearing, the defense only called one witness - Ramirez's father - though according to court records, Ramirez asked they not call a second witness. Ramirez has since admitted that he didn't want his family history dragged into the case.

Ramirez's direct appeal was denied in 2009. He filed for relief in 2010, arguing that trial prosecutors failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the murder was committed during a robbery; without the underlying felony, Ramirez would've likely been sentenced to life in prison. Appellate attorneys also claimed that prosecutors at Ramirez's trial conducted an "improper" elimination of potential jurors, and that Ramirez was erroneously shackled during trial, which unfairly tainted the jurors' view of their client. Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied his plea in 2012, as did the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals last February. In May, Ramirez appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but was denied 5 months later.

Last week, Corpus Christi news network KIII released a short interview with Ramirez. He said: "I'm not going to ask [Castro's family] to forgive me 'cause I think about it and I don't know how I'd react if someone killed a close family member - a father or a brother. I know it's hard. I wouldn't want to ask them to forgive me, I just want to ask them to know that I'm sorry."

Ramirez would be the 3rd Texan executed this year. Kosoul Chanthakoummane, previously scheduled for execution on Jan. 25, saw his death date rescheduled for July 19. (His attorney Gregory Gardner told the Chronicle that the forensic science used to convict him at his trial has since been debunked.)

Source: Austin Chronicle, January 26, 2017

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