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…

Texas executes Christopher Wilkins

Christopher Wilkins
Christopher Wilkins
A Fort Worth jury sent Christopher Wilkins to death row for killing 2 men he admitted shooting over a $20 phony drug deal after Wilkins said he didn't care whether he was sentenced to death.

"Look, it is no big deal," Wilkins calmly said from the witness stand at his 2008 trial.

On Wednesday, more than 11 years after the killings, the 48-year-old Wilkins was put to death by lethal injection at The Walls Unit, in Huntsville, Texas.

Christopher Wilkins was pronounced dead at 6:29 p.m.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to block the execution. The court's ruling on appeals for Wilkins came about three hours before his scheduled lethal injection.

Wilkins' attorneys had argued to the Supreme Court that he had poor legal help at his trial and during earlier appeals. State attorneys argued courts had rejected similar appeals and that defense lawyers were simply employing delaying tactics.

Wilkins' execution is the nation's first this year.

In 2005, after serving time in prison for gun possession, Wilkins drove a stolen truck to Fort Worth, where police tied him to several aggravated assaults and burglaries. There he befriended 2 men, 40-year-old Willie Freeman and 33-year-old Mike Silva, who duped him into paying $20 for a piece of gravel he thought was a rock of crack cocaine.

According to court records, Wilkins said he shot Freeman on Oct. 28, 2005, for laughing about the scam, then he shot Silva because he was there.

Their bodies were found in a ditch. Wilkins' fingerprints were found in Silva's wrecked SUV, and a pentagram matching one of Wilkins' numerous tattoos had been carved into the hood.

"When I get wound up, I have a fuse that is short," Wilkins testified. "I don't think about what I am doing."

He also admitted that a day earlier he had shot and killed another man, Gilbert Vallejo, 47, outside a Fort Worth bar in a dispute over a pay phone, and about a week later he used a stolen car to try to run down 2 people because he believed 1 of them had taken his sunglasses.

"I know they are bad decisions," Wilkins said of his actions. "I make them anyway."

"I think subconsciously, I've been trying to kill myself or get myself killed since I was probably 12 or 13 years old," he added. 

Kevin Rousseau, a Tarrant County assistant district attorney, described Wilkins as "a professional criminal. Very violent. He used violence as a means of achieve his means on a routine basis."

Wilkins' attorneys had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the execution, saying he had poor legal help at trial and during other appeals, and that the courts should have authorized money to his current lawyer to support other appeals and a clemency petition.

"He has never had a meaningful opportunity at any stage to develop that claim, to have any court address it on the merits, or even to have it considered as part of a petition for executive clemency," attorney Seth Waxman, told the justices in his appeal.

Stephen Hoffman, an assistant Texas attorney general, said investigation of those arguments "would either be redundant or fruitless," and called the appeals a delaying tactic.

In his appeals, Wilkins had argued that his attorney ignored his wish to plead guilty and did not put on a vigorous defense and that an appellate lawyer had a huge conflict of interest, having already accepted a job with the prosecutor's office. 

30 convicted killers were executed in the U.S. last year, the lowest number since the early 1980s. 7 were carried out last year in Texas, the fewest since 1996.

9 Texas inmates have already been scheduled to die in the early months of 2017.

Wilkins becomes the 1st condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Texas  and the 539th overall since the state resumed capital punishment on December 7, 1982.

Wilkins becomes the 1st condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1443rd overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977. 

Sources: Dallas Morning News, Associated Press, Twitter live feed, Rick Halperin, January 11, 2017

⚑ | 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