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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…

Kentucky Lawmakers Seeking to Abolish Death Penalty Cite Cost, Morality, Mistakes

Saying it's about the soul of Kentucky, Rep. Jason Nemes is filing legislation to abolish the death penalty.

2 chambers. 2 lawmakers from different parties. Similar bills. Republican Representative Jason Nemes and Democrat Senator Gerald Neal are both filing legislation Tuesday in the Kentucky General Assembly to abolish the death penalty.

Saying he wants to "stand for life," Nemes, a conservative lawmaker from Louisville, says his bill is "about the soul of Kentucky" and for him, "a matter of faith."

"If I believe that Jesus wouldn't do it, I don't think my government ought to do it either and I understand there are differences," he said.

Senator Neal, also from Louisville, says like the Nemes bill, his legislation would eliminate execution as one of the five penalties now available to a jury in a death penalty case, making life without the possibility of parole the maximum sentence. 

The Legislature has repeatedly rejected that idea, with many proponents of capital punishment saying it deters crime.

Nemes, who describes himself as a "law and order guy," says his stance is also about the proper role of government. He says he fears Kentucky's death penalty system will make a mistake and that's not something he's willing to live with.

"I believe that our government has the right to take someone's life or liberty, only to the extent necessary to protect us," Nemes explained. "And I'm strongly in favor of life without the possibility of parole, not even coming up for a question for parole."

Since 1973, 157 people have been exonerated from death row in America, including one in Kentucky, yet execution remains legal in 31 states.

Neal says while lawmakers often cite morality or the "broken system" for their opposition, it's because of the cost of the death penalty that many lawmakers have "second thoughts..."

"In fact, [they] find it not acceptable to pay for that process when they understand that it costs more to execute a person than it is to incarcerate them for life," Neal said.

Source: WMKY news, February 9, 2017

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