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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…

Man convicted of killing 2 in Osaka has death sentence reduced to life in prison

Gallows trap door, Tokyo Detention Center
Gallows trap door, Tokyo Detention Center
The Osaka High Court commuted a death sentence for a man convicted of indiscriminately murdering a man and a woman here in 2012 to a life prison term in a ruling on March 9.

"Considering that the crime was not carefully premeditated, it cannot be said the death penalty is unavoidable," Presiding Judge Hiroyuki Nakagawa said, while recognizing that the accused was mentally competent to be held responsible for his actions.

The Osaka District Court had sentenced the defendant -- Kyozo Isohi, 41 -- to death in a lay judge trial, as demanded by prosecutors.

The defense counsel, which had appealed the lower court ruling to the high court, told the court that their client heard a voice saying "Stab" due to auditory hallucinations caused by the aftereffects of his use of stimulants in the past, and pointed to the possibility that he was of diminished capacity.

Therefore, the degree of his capacity to take responsibility for his actions and sentencing were key points of contention in the case.

In its ruling, the high court deemed that the outcome of a psychiatric test on Isohi, which concluded that the effects of his auditory hallucination were limited, was rational, and recognized that he was competent to be held responsible for the crimes he is accused of committing.

"His auditory hallucinations only contributed to the defendant's decision and action to carry out the crimes," the presiding judge said.

Nakagawa then discussed whether the death sentence handed down by the lower court was appropriate.

Pointing out that Isohi bought a knife he used in his attacks shortly before the incidents, the presiding judge determined "it cannot be recognized that the accused had carefully premeditated the crimes."

Nakagawa noted that in all the past cases of fatal indiscriminate attacks in which the defendants were sentenced to death, courts recognized that the crimes were carefully premeditated. The judge then pointed out that because of this it is difficult to hand down a ruling that deviates from the judicial precedent.

Furthermore, Nakagawa said it was necessary to take into account the defendant's auditory hallucinations, which he said may have had certain effects on his actions, in sentencing.

The presiding judge then concluded that he has "no choice but to hesitate to choose the death penalty for the defendant even though the bereaved families of the victims requested a harsh penalty for the accused."

According to the ruling, Isohi stabbed Shingo Minamino, 42, a producer at an event organizing company, and Toshi Sasaki, 66, a restaurant operator, on a street in the Higashishinsaibashi district of Chuo Ward, Osaka, on June 10, 2012.

Source: mainichi.jp, March 9, 2017

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