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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…

Texas: Family sues in jail suicide of death row inmate who hoped to overturn conviction

Antonio Williams
Antonio Williams
Assistant county prosecutor accused of pressuring witnesses to name him in double murder

The family of a death row inmate who died at Harris County Jail while in Houston to appeal his conviction are suing county officials for his wrongful death by suicide two years ago.

Antonio Williams' mother who filed on behalf of herself and children and heirs unknown asserts that the county sheriff, county judge and an assistant district attorney involved in Williams' conviction should be liable for the cruel and unusual circumstances of his imprisonment at the county facility and for failing to protect him.

In addition, the suit singles out former Assistant District Attorney Lance Long for conspiring "to pressure witnesses to lie about their identification of Mr. Williams as the perpetrator of the capital murder."

The Harris County Attorney's Office plans to file a response on behalf of the sheriff, the county judge and the county itself. Officials at district attorney's office were not immediately available for comment.

At the time of Williams' suicide in 2015, Patrick McCann, the family's attorney called it "a bizarre story" because Williams had been assigned to 23-hour-a-day isolation where he should not have had access to the shoelaces he used to hang himself.

Williams, 34, was taking psychotropic medications for depression, but he was not supervised by mental health providers at the jail, according to the allegations.

Williams was convicted of capital murder in 2007 in the shooting deaths of Vincent Williams, 18, and Yolanda Styles, 22, in northwest Houston. 

Testimony at trial revealed that a gunman with an assault rifle fired about 30 rounds at the victims in a killing spree related to a drug ring.

Two witnesses testified that Williams was the gunman, but later recanted, saying they were pressured to lie by prosecutors and investigators. 

The two women who saw the shooting from a second floor patio said they were told to identify Williams despite their claims that the killer was a man named Keith who had dreadlocks with blond tips, according to court documents in Williams' defense.

Williams was found hanging by shoelaces from the exposed ledge of an inset grate at about 1 a.m. on Feb 19, 2015, and he was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. 

A Sheriff's Office spokeswoman at the time said she did not know why Williams would have had shoelaces in his cell.

Source: Houston Chronicle, Gabrielle Banks, February 22, 2017

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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning