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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…

Boris Johnson refuses help for innocent Florida death-row Brit

Florida's death chamber
Florida's death chamber
The Foreign Secretary has refused to support the last appeal of a 78-year-old Briton, who has spent 3 decades in a US prison for a crime he did not commit.

British businessman Kris Maharaj was arrested in Florida in 1986 and sentenced to death for murder, despite compelling evidence of his innocence. 

Since Mr Maharaj’s conviction, human rights organization Reprieve has established - through six people affiliated with a Colombian drug cartel - that the cartels committed the crime.

Mr Maharaj has filed a final appeal against his original conviction in the US federal courts, asking the court to consider the new evidence of his innocence. Clive Stafford Smith, founder of Reprieve and Mr Maharaj’s lawyer, has asked Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to submit an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief from the British Government.

However, in a recent letter to Reprieve, Mr Johnson confirmed that the Government would not submit such a briefing. His letter said that the Government's position "still stands" - referring to previous correspondence in which ministers said it would not be "appropriate” to support Mr Maharaj's case.

Mr Johnson’s predecessors have previously intervened with amicus briefs for British prisoners and businesses. Three years ago, the Foreign Office commissioned four lawyers from an international law firm to intervene on behalf of BP in litigation surrounding the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, saying the case “implicates the rights of one of the United Kingdom’s largest companies”.

The Foreign Secretary’s refusal to intervene in the case comes amid fresh concerns for Mr Maharaj’s wellbeing. Already confined to a wheelchair, Mr Maharaj was recently hospitalised after contracting a potentially fatal flesh-eating bacteria, due to unsanitary prison conditions.

Speaking to BBC Five Live in an interview broadcast this morning, Kris’ wife Marita said the couple had received "very little help" from ministers. She urged Mr Johnson to "do something" to support him, saying: “We are nearly 80 years old. Time is passing - we have the hope that everything is going to be okay, but we had that hope so many times. It's a horrible feeling. We've been disappointed so many times." She added that she believed the authorities in Florida "know he is innocent."

Senior Conservative MP Sir Peter Bottomley has supported Mr Maharaj’s request for a fresh hearing.

Commenting, Clive Stafford Smith – Mr Maharaj’s lawyer at Reprieve – said: “It’s deeply disappointing that, while the UK Government will intervene in a case involving a British firm, Boris Johnson won’t support an elderly, innocent Brit who has been through a 30-year ordeal in prison. Kris Maharaj doesn’t have much time left – all he and his family want is one last chance to reverse decades of injustice. Mr Johnson must meaningfully support Kris’ final bid for freedom.”

⇨ The Foreign Office's letter to Reprieve is available on request.

⇨ Further detail on Kris Maharaj’s case is available at the Reprieve website, here.

Source: Reprieve, March 28, 2017

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