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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…

Former Alabama death row inmates to share their stories of confinement, freedom

Anthony Ray Hinton spent nearly 30 years on Alabama death row
Anthony Ray Hinton spent nearly 30 years on Alabama death row
Racism, poverty, freedom and confinement will be the focus of speeches delivered by 2 former Alabama death row inmates, sharing their stories at the University of North Alabama later this month.

Anthony Ray Hinton, who spent 30 years on death row, and Gary Drinkard, who was released after 5 years, will share their stories of exoneration and wrongful conviction during a conference at UNA Feb. 23-24. The events are open to the public.

Hinton walked free in April 2015 at age 52. He'd been on death row for 30 years for the 1985 murders of 2 Birmingham fast food restaurant managers. Hinton and his attorneys asked prosecutors for years to retest the gun that linked him to the crime.

On April 3, Anthony Ray Hinton walked free, prosecutors dropping the charges - the U.S. Supreme Court had ordered a retrial - that he'd killed 2 men in a Birmingham area fast food managers in 1985. The bullets didn't match up beyond a doubt, the state said.

Shortly before his release, new tests ultimately ruled that the bullets found at the crime scenes couldn't be conclusively linked to the gun or to each other.

Hinton's conviction, he has said, is rooted in racism, poverty and failures of the criminal justice system.

"We want to help people think critically about the crimes and evidence that warrant sentencing someone to death," said Stephanie Renee Adair, one of several English graduate students helping plan the conference at UNA.

Incarceration has been a focus of Alabama politics recently, particularly with Gov. Robert Bentley's plans of spending millions on new prisons to house the state's inmates, who currently are being held in overcrowded facilities.

Bentley will propose a plan similar to the one he proposed last year, borrowing $800 million to build 4 new prisons, while closing most of the existing prisons.

"Mass incarceration is a crisis, but we're not really answering why," said Katie Owens-Murphy, an assistant professor of English at UNA. "Maybe the problem isn't with space but rather with the way the criminal justice system itself operates. Anthony Ray Hinton and Gary Drinkard show how it becomes possible to convict and sentence innocent people, even to death."

Gary Drinkard spent 5 years on death row for the Morgan County murder of Dalton Pace, a junkyard dealer. But, he was released in 2000 after getting a new trial. Drinkard said his lawyers weren't up to the task of defending him in a death penalty case the 1st time around, and the Alabama Supreme Court threw out his 1st conviction.

7 men have been released from death row in Alabama since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. One man who has been there shares his experience.

The 2 are speaking at the Alabama Regional Graduate Conference because its focus this year is on confinement. Graduate students have studied prison literature as part of their focus on American literature.

Anthony Ray Hinton and Gary Drinkard show how it becomes possible to convict and sentence innocent people, even to death.

Rather than having only academic research and scholarship tell the story of the criminal justice system, Adair said the conference will offer a real-life testimony of the system's failures.

"We're putting on human face on how the system can go wrong," Adair said.

Hinton will speak Feb. 23 at 6 p.m. in UNA's Guillot University Center. Drinkard will speak at 4 p.m. the next day.

Source: al.com, February 10, 2017

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