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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…

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signs bill: Judges can no longer override juries in death penalty cases

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey today signed into law a bill that says juries, not judges, have the final say on whether to impose the death penalty in capital murder cases.

Ivey signed the bill, which had been passed by the Alabama House of Representatives on April 4.

Rep. Chris England, one of the legislators who had supported a bill to do away with override confirmed Ivey had signed it into law through a tweet.

Alabama had been the only state that allows a judge to override a jury's recommendation when sentencing capital murder cases.

The bill approved on April 4 was one submitted by Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery. It passed the House on a vote of 78-19 for signature by then Gov. Robert Bentley, who had said he planned to sign it into law after a standard legal review. Bentley, however, didn't get a chance to sign it, resigning Monday amid a sex scandal and a plea agreement with prosecutors.

At least one Alabama judge was happy to see the law changed.

"I'm glad to be stripped of this power," Jefferson County Bessemer Cutoff Circuit Judge David Carpenter told AL.com Tuesday. "Also, this is long overdue. Our Capital Murder sentencing statute would eventually have been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court."

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Washington-D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center, said that the new law is "important" and significant. "Judicial override has been responsible for some of the unfairest and most unreliable death sentences in the United States," he said.

Judicial override was initially designed to prevent runaway juries and an extra level of procedural safeguards to prevent the unjustified imposition of the death penalty, Dunham said. "That has not been the way it has worked historically in Alabama," he said.

"It has been used to impose death sentences against the will of the community and has been disproportionately used in election years in cases of white victims and African am defendants," Dunham said.

Alabama was an outlier with judicial override, becoming the last state to allow its use by judges for overriding life without parole recommendation to impose death, Dunham said.

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Source: al.com, April 11, 2017

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