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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…

3 Connecticut lawmakers call for restoring the death penalty

Rural Connecticut | Photo: Stefen Turner
Rural Connecticut | Photo: Stefen Turner
HARTFORD >> As many states move toward eliminating the death penalty, three Connecticut lawmakers are trying to bring it back in the Constitution State.

Republican Reps. Robert Sampson, Kurt Vail and Kevin Skulczyck have proposed separate bills that would reinstate capital punishment, which was abolished by the state Supreme Court in 2015. In a sharply divided 4-3 decision, the majority opinion said the death penalty “no longer comports with contemporary standards of decency and no longer serves any legitimate penological purpose.”

Sampson disagrees. He has proposed bringing bring back the death penalty each year since 2012, when lawmakers and the governor approved eliminating capital punishment, but only for future crimes. That law was ruled unconstitutional by the 2015 Supreme Court decision, which said it must apply to all death row inmates.

“I believe that it’s a mechanism to deter crime and there are crimes so heinous they deserve the death penalty,” Sampson said.

Sampson cited the 2007 home invasion murders in Cheshire, where two paroled burglars killed a woman and her two daughters after terrorizing the family for hours. Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, 11-year-old Michaela and 17-year-old Hayley, died. Hawke-Petit’s husband, Dr. William Petit, was badly wounded but survived. The two killers were sentenced to death, but the sentences were changed to life in prison without release after the Supreme Court decision.

Petit, a Republican, was elected to the state House of Representatives in November and has criticized the repeal of the state’s death penalty. But he has said he has no plans to join any efforts to reinstate capital punishment.

Skulczyck, of Griswold, said he supports using capital punishment for “the most serious murder offenses.”

“A lawless society inspires a lack of respect for authority and devalues human life,” he said in a statement.

Vail did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Sampson said that while he doesn’t expect his bill to pass, he is emboldened because Republicans won enough state Senate seats in November to create a tie with Democrats in the chamber — although Democratic Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman would break any tie. Democrats hold a slim majority in the House.

Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy would not sign any legislation reinstating capital punishment, spokesman Chris Collibee said.

“The governor has been very clear that he is opposed to the death penalty,” Collibee said. “As people do begin to consider this piece of legislation, we think it is wise to remember the decision issued by the state Supreme Court on this very issue.”

Legislation in at least four other states would either restore or expand the death penalty: New Jersey, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and New Mexico, according to the legislation tracking service LegiScan. Bills are pending in at least eight states seeking to abolish capital punishment: Colorado, Missouri, Alabama, Indiana, Washington, Arizona, Nebraska and Montana.

There is no death penalty in 19 states, while 31 states have capital punishment, according to the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center. Of the 31 states, four have moratoriums on their death penalty laws.

Source: New Haven Register, Associated Press, Feb. 12, 2017

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