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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…

Court filing: Ohio asked 7 states in vain for lethal drug

Ohio asked 7 other states for a lethal injection drug in an unsuccessful attempt to continue putting inmates to death, according to a court filing.

The prisons agency also tried in vain to obtain the active ingredient in the drug, pentobarbital, in hopes of having a compounded version made, the filing said.

State attorneys cited the information in a Feb. 3 motion with a Cincinnati appeals court to explain why reverting to pentobarbital is not an option.

The filing says Ohio asked Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Texas and Virginia for the drug.

"None of those states agreed to provide pentobarbital to Ohio," according to the filing, which summarized a sealed deposition by Stephen Gray, the prison agency's in-house lawyer.

The filing doesn't say when Ohio made those requests. Of the 7 states, only Georgia, Missouri and Texas have current supplies of pentobarbital. Those states won't reveal the source.

Executions have been on hold since January 2014 when Ohio used a never-tried 2-drug combo that it then abandoned.

Ohio is appealing a federal judge's ruling last month rejecting the state's latest proposed 3-drug execution method, which hasn't been used in Ohio.

As part of that ruling, Magistrate Judge Michael Merz said the possibility exists that Ohio could obtain pentobarbital.

Merz also said Ohio didn't prove that the first drug in its current 3-drug process, the sedative midazolam, doesn't present a substantial risk of harm.

The prison system says the opposite is true and that a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year permitted midazolam's use.

"Ohio has the capability to perform constitutional executions now. It should be permitted to do so," Thomas Madden, an assistant attorney general, said in Ohio's appeal.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati has scheduled arguments for Feb. 21.

The prisons system changed its execution process because it can't find pentobarbital, said Gary Mohr, the agency's director, who said the agency is "comfortable" with its position before the appeals court.

"This is a serious responsibility, and we work hard to carry out executions in a humane manner, with the utmost respect for the law, for victims, and for justice," Mohr said in a statement provided to The Associated Press. "That commitment is unwavering."

The state also said in its filing:

-- Ohio can't import pentobarbital or its active ingredient from a foreign manufacturer because the state's application to add pentobarbital to its current federal importer registration hasn't been acted on in four months.

-- Even if Ohio had a license to import the drug, it hasn't identified any company that would provide it.

Source: The Republic, February 10, 2017

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