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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…

Gov. Ricketts says Nebraska moving forward to carry out capital punishment

Nebraska's death chamber
Nebraska's death chamber
Gov. Pete Ricketts says his administration is moving to carry out executions in wake of voter approval of the death penalty.

Ricketts has signed off on a lethal injection protocol drafted by the Department of Correctional Services. 

The governor says the department is working on plans to revive capital punishment. He says there is no timeline at present to carry out executions.

Ricketts says the administration is simply carrying out the will of the people.

"The vast majority of Nebraskans voted to keep capital punishment as a tool for public safety; 61% of the folks voted in favor of it," Ricketts tells reporters. "So, it's really up to us now in state government to be able to carry out the will of the people and be able to implement those sentences."

Voters in November overturned the Unicameral's repeal of the death penalty.

Nebraska has 10 inmates on death row. The state last carried out an execution 20 years ago.

Corrections officials revised the initial lethal injection protocol it proposed following a public hearing on it, removing a provision that would have kept secret the supplier of lethal injection drugs.

State Sen. John Kuehn of Heartwell sponsors LB 661 which would allow state officials to withhold information that would identify individuals or businesses making, compounding, or prescribing drugs for lethal injection. The Government, Military, and Veterans Committee heard public testimony on the bill Thursday.

Ricketts says his administration will push forward with or without the measure.

"Other states have passed this as a way to do it," Ricketts says. "We've got a protocol right now that we're working on with regard to regulations. Whether we have a shield law or not, we're going to pursue our regulation. Certainly, again, I'll let the legislature vet through their process. Other states have passed shield laws as a way to help them. So, this certainly has potential."

Sen. Kuehn has testified that 15 or the 31 states with the death penalty have shield laws. He says he has modeled his bill after a shield law adopted in Georgia.

Nebraska does not have the drugs needed to carry out an execution by lethal injection.

Source: nebraskaradionetwork.com, February 11, 2017


New bill would keep suppliers of lethal injection drugs secret in Nebraska


Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts
Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts: A view to a kill
A proposal keep the suppliers of death penalty drugs secret gets a mixed reaction in the Capitol Thursday.

Supporters and opponents lined up to testify on LB 661.

The measure offered by Sen. John Kuehn, of Heartwell, would create an exemption in the state's open records law.

The drugs, the make-up and testing of the compounds would all be public, except for names of individuals and companies who provide the drugs for an execution.

"Disclosing the identity of suppliers subjects them to very real risk of harm, violence and harassment that would prevent the state from obtaining compounds to preform state obligations," Kuehn told the Legislature's Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.

He said that Nebraskans sent a clear message when they voted overwhelming by 61 % to keep the death penalty, and lawmakers have a responsibility to fix the system.

Corrections director Scott Frakes testified that the states that have carried out lethal injection executions all have similar "shield laws."

"I firmly believe this bill is needed to remove a tool that death penalty opponents will continue to use to frustrate and stymie the will of the voters," Frakes said.

But opponents argued it could allow the state to obtain the drugs through shady methods.

"It may be a thief. It may be a crooked company,"Alan Peterson, who represents a death row inmate, said.

Peterson said the state has a long tradition of open records.

That information will come out anyway, because a state shield law wouldn't provide protection in federal courts, where most death penalty cases end up.

"This isn't going to stop that. So the compelling reason is don't sacrifice, along with the person who is being killed, the transparency of state government.

That's really a sacrifice," Peterson said.

Other opponent said that if this law was in place, Nebraskans would never have known the state paid $54,000 to Harris Pharma, an overseas broker, to obtain a lethal injection drug it never received.

That same broker was accused of re-directing drugs for executions that were supposed to go from medical uses in developing countries.

But, Sen. Kuehn argued that this issue goes beyond just executions.

He said that because of harassment, companies have cut back producing anesthetics that are also used in other medical procedures.

Kuehn said that caused dangerous medical shortages.

"How many medical patients will suffer have less-than optimal medical or surgical care, or die, to protect convicted death row inmates," Kuehn said.

In January, Gov. Pete Ricketts approved a new execution protocol that would allow the director of corrections to select which drugs would be used in a execution.

Source: KETV news, February 11, 2017

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