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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…

Montana Death Penalty Repeal Bill Narrowly Defeated

Days after hearing testimony from clergy, young conservative lawmakers, and an exonerated death-row inmate from Arizona asking for the end of capital punishment, state lawmakers voted against their request.

The bill, HB-366, introduced by Adam Hertz, a freshman Republican from Missoula, was voted down largely along party lines — Democrats voting in favor of abolishing the death penalty and Republicans tending to vote against.

Shortly before the House Judiciary committee voted, Representative Lola Sheldon-Galloway, a Republican from Great Falls, passed out a picture of her sister-in law and asked the lawmakers on the committee to imagine something — a daughter, being murdered, beaten with a pop bottle and stabbed in the throat, eventually running out of blood. Then she gets tossed in the trunk of a car.

Lola Sheldon-Galloway says the bill, which would replace the death penalty with life without parole, was too weak in its language. She says some people, convicted of heinous crimes, shouldn’t be able to leave a prison alive.

"There is a better option, than this particular legislation," Sheldon-Galloway says. "And I will definitely vote no on it, for that reason."

When the bill was introduced earlier this week, no-one testified against it. Before the vote, Representative Shane Morigeau, a Democrat from Missoula, asked lawmakers to consider the mistakes that can be made in the death penalty system.

"We are not perfect in our sentencing," Morigeau says. "We make mistakes all the time. And I think sentencing one person to death and making a mistake one time, is one time too many."

The bill to abolish capital punishment failed ten votes to nine. 

Attempts to remove the death penalty from Montana’s books have failed in every legislative session this century. 

There are currently two men sitting on death row.

Source: Montana Public Radio, February 10, 2017

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