FEATURED POST

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

Image
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…

U.S.: A Wiser Generation of Prosecutors

The newly elected district attorney in Denver, Beth McCann, announced last month that her office would no longer seek the death penalty. "I don't think that the state should be in the business of killing people," she said.

In Harris County, Tex., which includes Houston and has long been one of the most execution-friendly counties in America, the new district attorney, Kim Ogg, said there would be "very few death penalty prosecutions" under her administration.

In January, the Democratic attorney general in Washington State, Bob Ferguson, proposed a bill that would ban the death penalty there. The bill is supported by the governor, Jay Inslee, a bipartisan group of legislators and, notably, by Mr. Ferguson's Republican predecessor.

These women and men are at the forefront of a new generation of local and state law-enforcement officials, most elected in 2015 and 2016, who are working to change the national conversation about the proper role of the prosecutor - one of the most powerful yet least understood jobs in the justice system.

Just a few years ago, it was political suicide for a district attorney almost anywhere to profess anything less than total allegiance to the death penalty, or to seeking the harshest punishments available in every case.

Times are changing. As capital punishment's many flaws have become impossible to ignore, its use has dwindled. The number of new death sentences and executions continues to drop - only 30 people were sentenced to death nationwide in 2016, and 20 were executed. Prosecutors aren't just seeking fewer death sentences; they're openly turning against the practice, even in places where it has traditionally been favored.

Reformist prosecutors are also changing how they handle non-capital offenses, which make up the vast majority of prosecutions. Kim Foxx, the new state's attorney in Cook County, Ill., which includes Chicago, ordered her prosecutors in December not to bring felony charges in shoplifting cases involving less than $1,000 of goods, which is the vast majority of cases. 

The idea is to keep more nonviolent offenders, many of whom are homeless, drug addicted or mentally ill, out of jail and steer them into treatment programs where they will be less likely to re-offend.

Prosecutors like these are especially important today. Donald Trump's blunt, hysterical "law and order" campaign distorted the reality of crime in America - invoking an apocalyptic hellscape when in fact crime remains at historic lows. Now that Mr. Trump is president, his dark vision is likely to be implemented on the federal level by his pick for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who as a senator has fought almost all efforts at justice reform.

In these circumstances, the best chance for continued reform lies with state and local prosecutors who are open to rethinking how they do their enormously influential jobs.

Source: The New York Times, Editorial, February 6, 2017

⚑ | Report an error, an omission, a typo; suggest a story or a new angle to an existing story; submit a piece, a comment; recommend a resource; contact the webmaster, contact us: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com.


Opposed to Capital Punishment? Help us keep this blog up and running! DONATE!

Most Viewed (Last 7 Days)

Convicted killer from infamous “Texas 7” prison escape gets execution date

Malaysian court sentences Australian grandmother to death by hanging

Nebraska seeks July 10 date for state's 1st execution since 1997

Post Mortem – the execution of Edward Earl Johnson

Ohio: Lawyers seek review of death sentence for 23-year-old Clayton man

Texas man on death row for decapitating 3 kids loses appeal

Amnesty International Once Again Highlights Shocking Justice System in Iran

Maria Exposto: Can she avoid execution?

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

Ohio man with execution set for July 18 blames killing on ‘homosexual panic’