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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…

No firing squad for Mississippi's death row inmates

Mississippi lawmakers have shot down the firing squad as a means of execution for death row inmates.

The change, by a state Senate committee, came after the lower chamber passed a proposal Feb. 8 that would have allowed death by nitrogen gas chamber, firing squad and electrocution as alternatives to the current method of lethal injection. The state legislature proposed the other options in case others are deemed unconstitutional or become unavailable.

"States have been having difficulty obtaining lethal injection drugs within the United States primarily because the American pharmaceutical manufacturers have uniformly said they don't want their medicines used in killing prisoners," said Robert Dunham, Director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

The options do not permit condemned prisoners to choose their execution method. The alternative methods are available only if the lethal injection is not available with gas chamber being the 2nd option and electrocution the last.

According to Dunham, other states have also turned to alternative ways to carry out death sentences. He notes Utah and Oklahoma have added death by firing squad as an alternate to lethal injection and Tennessee has authorized the use of the electric chair. Death by firing squad in Utah is only available to those sentenced to death prior to 2004. In all 31 states that allow the death penalty, the primary method for executions is lethal injection.

Dunham said he expects legal challenges to the most recent change in the proposed bill. The state currently faces legal challenges surrounding the drugs it uses for lethal injection executions. Opponents say the use of the drugs violate the U.S. Constitution.

The Magnolia State previously used the electric chair and gas chamber to execute violent criminals. Lethal injection became the state's sole means of execution in March of 1998, according to the Mississippi Department of Corrections. Mississippi's most recent execution was carried out in 2012 and there are currently 47 people on death row in the state.

The bill will now move to the full state senate for consideration and will have to be sent back the house for approval of the amended changes before being passed on to the governor.

Source: Associated Press, February 25, 2017

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