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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…

California: High-profile death row inmate Fernando Eros Caro dies of unknown causes

Fernando Eros Caro
Fernando Eros Caro
California death row inmate dies; convicted in San Jose murder trial

A killer convicted in a high-profile Santa Clara County trial died of unknown causes Saturday at San Quentin State Prison.

Fernando Eros Caro, 67, had been sentenced to death for the 1980 murders of 2 bicycling teenagers and a man in citrus orchards near Fresno. He was tried in San Jose because of pretrial publicity in Fresno County.

His death sentence was reversed in 2002 by the Ninth Circuit Federal Appeals Court, which found that Caro did not have adequate legal representation.

The court commuted Caro's sentence to a life term, though he remained on death row after Fresno County prosecutors declared their intention to retry him and again seek the death penalty.

Caro was pronounced dead around 11:45 p.m. Saturday. The cause of death is unknown pending the results of an autopsy.

Caro had been convicted of fatally shooting 15-year-old cousins Mary Booher and Mark Hatcher. The pair were riding their bicycles in a tangerine orchard on an August evening in 1980 when Caro fatally shot Hatcher. He then drove Booher a short distance away and fatally shot her, then dumped the bicycles in an irrigation canal.

Caro was not acquainted with either youth and no motive was ever proved.

He was also convicted of an attack later that evening on Jack Lucchesi and Rick Donner. After Caro sideswiped Donner's car with his pickup truck outside a tavern near the town of Fowler, the 2 men had given chase. He pulled over, and when Lucchesi approached him, Caro opened fire on both men. Lucchesi died.

Caro's death came 2 days after that of another San Quentin death row inmate, James David Majors, 69.

Majors, who was sentenced in 1991 for the slayings of 3 people in a suburban Sacramento County home, died Thursday at a hospital.

And a 3rd California inmate died early Monday after being found unresponsive in his cell at Pelican Bay State Prison. His cellmate is considered a suspect in the death of 29-year-old Neil Z. Ramirez, who was serving an 8-year sentence for kidnapping.

The cellmate, who was not being named because of the ongoing investigation, is serving a life prison sentence for a Los Angeles County murder.

California's last execution was in 2006.

Since 1978, when California reinstated capital punishment, 71 condemned inmates have died from natural causes, 25 have committed suicide, 13 have been executed in California, 1 was executed in Missouri, 1 was executed in Virginia, 8 have died from other causes, and 3 (including Caro) have their cause of death pending. There are currently 750 offenders on California's death row.

Source: Mercury News, January 31, 2017

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