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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…

Gov. John Bel Edwards 'interested' in debate on abolishing death penalty in Louisiana

Gov. John Bel Edwards said he's interested in hearing the debate about abolishing the death penalty in Louisiana, but won't commit one way or the other on the issue.

"I acknowledge that it costs a lot in terms of the criminal justice system to have the death penalty," Edwards said during interview Monday with The Advocate's editorial board. "But I am not endorsing moving away from the death penalty in Louisiana."

Neither would Edwards commit to vetoing legislation if 1 of the 2 bills being considered by the Louisiana Legislature in the session that began Monday passes both chambers and makes it to his desk.

"I understand the indigent defenders (the lawyers who represent, at taxpayers' expense, most criminal defendants accused of capital crimes) could take $10 million right away and put it towards other types of cases that make up the overwhelming majority of their caseload," Edwards said. "I am sort of interested to see how the conversation goes and who really plays a part in that."

6 states have abolished the death penalty since the recession began in 2007, largely for financial reasons, and others are looking at it now.

3 former law enforcement officials filed 2 bills in the House and the Senate that would make Louisiana the 1st state in the South to abolish capital punishment.

Democratic state Rep. Terry Landry, of New Iberia and a former superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, and Republican Rep. Steve Pylant, of Winnsboro and a former sheriff, sponsored House Bill 101. Republican state Sen. Dan Claitor, of Baton Rouge and a former prosecutor, filed Senate Bill 142, which has nearly identical wording.

The measures would eliminate death as a possible sentence for defendants convicted of heinous crimes committed after Aug. 1. Those convicted would instead be sentenced to life in prison.

The sponsors say that beyond the moral and ethical grounds that are the usual arguments for such proposals, capital punishment is an expensive affectation because nobody has been executed in Louisiana - with the exception of a single volunteer - in 15 years.

The bills would not invalidate the sentences of the 73 men and one woman already on death row. But the state's rejection of capital punishment could influence appeals of those sentences.

Additionally, the state doesn't have the chemicals necessary to lethally inject any of the 74 condemned prisoners in the state penitentiary at Angola. And the manufacturers of those pharmaceuticals, which cause cardiac arrest, refuse the sell the chemicals for executions. Louisiana would need to change its law to use some other method to put people to death.

The state's district attorneys voted unanimously last week to oppose the legislation. The state's sheriffs have issued no position but are meeting in Baton Rouge Tuesday to discuss these bills as well as a package of measures that would revamp the way criminal justice is administered in a state that incarcerates more of its citizens, per capita, than China and Russia.

Claitor chairs Senate Judiciary Committee, which is slated to consider SB42. Rep. Sherman Mack, the Albany Republican who chairs the House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice, opposes the legislation but said he would give HB101 a hearing.

Source: The Advocate, April 11, 2017

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