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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…

Arkansas executions blocked again by healthcare company suit

America’s largest drug wholesaler has once again succeeded in blocking the use of dishonestly-obtained medicines in Arkansas’s planned “mass execution”.

This afternoon a judge in the Pulaski County Circuit Court granted a temporary restraining order blocking the use of medicines in lethal injection executions, following an unprecedented lawsuit by the healthcare company McKesson, which Fortune ranks as America’s 5th most successful firm.

As long as the order remains in place the state is barred from proceeding with the executions of Stacey Johnson and Ledell Lee, which had been scheduled for Thursday 20th April. The state is expected to appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

This is the second such order obtained by McKesson, following an injunction obtained on similar grounds on Friday April 14th. McKesson withdrew that suit after the executions were stayed by a US federal court, but re-filed its petition yesterday evening after that court’s stay was lifted.

McKesson’s suit marks the first time in US legal history that a private company has brought direct legal action to prevent the misuse of medicines in executions. The suit alleges that that the Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC): 
  • purchased the products under the medical license of an Arkansas physician, and “represented that the order was placed at the request of a physician and with the intent to use the products for a legitimate medical purpose.”; 
  • had the products shipped to “the address previously used for its healthcare facility’s orders” and asked “that the ordering process not be documented via e-mail”; 
  • assured McKesson it would return the products, accepted a full refund, then reneged on its pledge and “kept both the illegally obtained Vecuronium and the returned funds.” 

Maya Foa, an expert at the international rights group Reprieve, said:

“Today McKesson has shown that the healthcare industry will do what it takes to prevent the grave misuse of medicines in executions.

“Arkansas obtained these drugs from McKesson through a sustained campaign of deception, which saw it deliberately mislead the company about the products’ intended purpose then renege on a promise to return them after they were given a full refund.

“In its efforts to ‘enforce the law’ Arkansas has ridden roughshod over private companies’ legal agreements and the interests of Arkansas patients, and today’s ruling shows this will not pass unchallenged.”
  • The judge's ruling was reported here.
  • McKesson’s April 18 complaint is here.

Source: Reprieve, April 20, 2017


Arkansas Supreme Court halts 1 death-row inmate's execution


The Arkansas Supreme Court on Wednesday night halted the execution of Stacey Johnson, which was scheduled for Thursday.

The Arkansas Supreme Court has halted one of two executions set for Thursday, saying the condemned inmate should have a chance to prove his innocence with more DNA testing.

Stacey Johnson claims that advanced DNA techniques could show that he didn't kill Carol Heath, a 25-year-old mother of two, in 1993 at her southwest Arkansas apartment.

In a 4-3 ruling late Wednesday afternoon, the state's highest court issued a stay for Johnson and ordered a new hearing in lower court for Johnson to make his claims.

Johnson was set for execution Thursday night along with inmate Ledell Lee, who is also seeking a stay in a separate case.

Source: Arkansasonline.com, April 19, 2017



Arkansas Court Rulings Put State’s Execution Schedule in Doubt


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Arkansas Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a stay of execution for a condemned prisoner scheduled to die on Thursday, imposing a new curb on a plan that once called for the state to empty nearly a quarter of its death row by the end of the month.

Separately, in a decision that Arkansas officials immediately said they would appeal, a Circuit Court judge here in Pulaski County ruled that the state could not use one of its lethal injection drugs, vecuronium bromide, amid allegations that the prison system misled a pharmaceutical distributor.

Before Wednesday’s decisions, the courts had already compelled the state to abandon plans for three of the eight executions it hoped to carry out before the expiration of a different lethal injection drug, midazolam, at the end of the month. By sunset on Wednesday, about 24 hours before the state intended to execute Stacey E. Johnson and Ledell Lee at a prison southeast of Little Rock, it was unclear whether any executions would happen.

The Supreme Court’s stay applied only to Mr. Johnson, 47, who was sentenced to death in 1994 for the rape and murder of a woman in Sevier County, which is along the border with Texas. Lawyers for Mr. Johnson have insisted he is innocent and persuaded the justices to issue a stay of execution to allow for forensic tests.

One of Mr. Johnson’s lawyers, Nina Morrison, said his supporters were “grateful and relieved” after the decision. The Arkansas attorney general, Leslie Rutledge, said she was “evaluating options on how to proceed to ensure that justice is carried out.”

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he was “surprised and disappointed” by the ruling.

“When I set the dates, I knew there could be delays in one or more of the cases, but I expected the courts to allow the juries’ sentences to be carried out since each case had been reviewed multiple times by the Arkansas Supreme Court, which affirmed the guilt of each,” Mr. Hutchinson said in a statement.

The state could appeal the stay to the United States Supreme Court, which on Monday rebuffed Arkansas’s efforts to overturn stays for two men who were scheduled to die that night.

The Arkansas court’s 4-to-3 majority on Wednesday did not explain its ruling in Mr. Johnson’s case, but the dissenting justices published a blistering critique of the decision.

“With no explanation or instruction, this matter has been remanded to the trial court for another hearing,” Associate Justice Rhonda K. Wood wrote in a dissent that two other justices joined. “Today, our court gives uncertainty to any case ever truly being final in the Arkansas Supreme Court.”

In a filing to the United States Supreme Court earlier Wednesday, Ms. Rutledge’s office used notably graphic terms to describe the conduct that sent Mr. Johnson, who was convicted at two trials, to death row more than two decades ago.

Mr. Johnson’s lawyers, citing “qualitative changes in the capabilities of forensic DNA testing between 1997, 2002 and now,” asked the Arkansas court for new forensic studies on evidence that included a rape kit and fingernail scrapings.

“Mr. Johnson seeks DNA testing — which in this case would not only exonerate him, but save his life,” his lawyers wrote.

➤ Click here to read the full article

Source: The New York Times, Alan Blinder, April 19, 2017

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