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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 executes Terry Edwards

Terry Edwards
Terry Edwards
43-year-old Terry Edwards was put to death by lethal injection late Thursday for the $3,000 holdup at a Subway restaurant where 2 employees were gunned down in 2002.

Edwards died of lethal injection at 10:17 p.m. at the state's death chamber in Huntsville, said Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark in a statement.

“Yes, I made peace with God. I hope y’all make peace with this," Edwards said before he was put to death, according to the statement released by Clark.

Multiple appeals before the high court temporarily delayed the punishment for more than 3 hours. Edwards' attorneys had asked the justices to reopen his case to investigate claims that a court-appointed lawyer earlier in the appeals process provided deficient help by abandoning him. The court 2 weeks ago agreed to review the case of another Texas death row inmate who raised claims about poor legal help.

Another appeal before the high court Thursday night raised questions about whether the pentobarbital Texas uses in lethal injections should be tested for its potency before Edwards is put to death.

The court order setting Edwards' execution had given the state a 6-hour window, ending at midnight, to carry out the punishment. Edwards was convicted of a 2002 robbery at a Balch Springs Subway sandwich shop where 2 employees were killed.

He was sentenced to die in 2003 for the shooting deaths of Tommy Walker, 34, and Mickell Goodwin, 26. Edwards had been fired from the Subway where they worked weeks earlier, and prosecutors said he killed the 2 before fleeing. Witnesses said Edwards later was seen dumping a .38-caliber handgun in a trash can across the street from the store. He was arrested the same day and found with $3,000 from the store.

But Edwards' lawyers say he wasn't the triggerman in the deadly robbery. They allege that the lead prosecutor in the trial elicited false testimony from a forensic expert and unconstitutionally cherry-picked jurors so that the black defendant faced an all-white jury. They also contend that the prosecutor withheld statements from witnesses who said they saw Edwards' cousin inside the restaurant at the time of the murders and fleeing out the front door. They say Edwards' cousin, who committed the robbery with him and is eligible for parole, was the gunman.

The lawyers sought to delay Edwards' execution and allow the county to assign Dallas County's Conviction Integrity Unit to the case, citing "grave concerns" about the validity of the conviction.

State lawyers, however, argue in court documents that Edwards planned and participated in the robbery, knowing that the victims would be shot. They also contend that multiple witnesses identified Edwards and that he made incriminating statements while he was in a police car after his arrest. In a recording of his statements, Edwards was heard to say that he had "messed up" and got 2 murders.

"None of applicant's allegations exculpate him as a party to the capital murder, nor undermine confidence in the jury's verdict," Jaclyn O'Connor Lambert, an assistant Dallas County district attorney, wrote in a court pleading.

Edwards becomes the 2nd condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Texas and the 540th overall since Texas resumed capital punishment on December 7, 1982. He becomes the 22nd condemned inmate to be put to death since Greg Abbott became governor of Texas.

Edwards becomes the 3rd condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1445th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

Sources: Dallas Morning News, Rick Halperin, January 26, 2017

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