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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…

Virginia: Federal judge declines to delay execution over drug controversy

A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on Tuesday declined to delay the execution of convicted killer Ricky Gray, which is scheduled to take place January 18. 

Gray's attorneys argued in December that the drugs to be used during the execution were untested and potentially torturous. 

Judge Henry Hudson concluded that "any discomfort experienced by Gray in the execution process is unlikely to cause serious pain or suffering." He also concluded that the possibility of pain was outweighed by the harm done if the execution was delayed. 

Gray's attorney, Lisa Fried, stated that "it is unconstitutional ... to carry out an execution that risk chemically torturing a prisoner to death." No other state has used the mixture of drugs to be used at Gray's execution. 

His attorneys plan to appeal.

Capital punishment remains a controversial issue in the US and worldwide. Last Wednesday the Florida Supreme Court issued a 1-paragraph order informing judges and prosecutors that the state's death penalty procedure is unconstitutional, marking the 2nd such order in 3 months. 

In October the US Supreme Court vacated the death sentence of an Oklahoma man convicted of killing his girlfriend and her 2 children in a case where the trial judge permitted family members to recommend the sentence to the jury. 

In May a Miami judge ruled that Florida's revamped death penalty law is unconstitutional because it does not require a unanimous agreement among jurors to approve executions. 

In April Virginia's General Assembly voted to keep secret the identities of suppliers of lethal injection drugs. 

In 2002 the Supreme Court held in Atkins v. Virginia that the Eighth Amendment's proscription on cruel and unusual punishment makes the execution of individuals with intellectual disability unconstitutional, which was considered in the Moore v. Texas case. 

In November, Oklahoma became the 1st state to have the death penalty explicitly added to their state constitution as legal. According to a report by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), only 5 out of 31 states that have the death penalty held executions in 2016.

Source: jurist.org, January 12, 2017

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