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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…

Outcry after Arkansas judge who stayed executions joins anti-death penalty rally

Pulaski County circuit judge Wendell Griffen
Pulaski County circuit judge Wendell Griffen taking part in an anti-death
penalty demonstration outside the state governor’s mansion, Arkansas.
Republican lawmakers questioned Judge Wendell Griffen’s impartiality after he lay bound on a cot following his ruling to halt executions

The judge who on Friday barred Arkansas from executing six prisoners in rapid succession followed his ruling by attending an anti-death penalty rally, where he lay down on a cot and bound himself as though he were a condemned man on a gurney.

Judge Wendell Griffen’s participation in the protest outside the Arkansas governor’s mansion sparked outrage among death penalty supporters, including Republican lawmakers who described it as judicial misconduct and potential grounds for Griffen’s removal from the bench.

Arkansas attorney general Leslie Rutledge on Saturday asked the state’s highest court to vacate Griffen’s ruling and asked for a new judge to be assigned the case.

Griffen, a Pulaski County circuit judge, ruled against the state because of a dispute over how the state obtained one of its execution drugs. In an interview on Saturday, he said he was morally opposed to the death penalty and that his personal beliefs alone should not disqualify him from taking up certain cases. 

“We have never, in my knowledge, been so afraid to admit that people can have personal beliefs yet can follow the law, even when to follow the law means they must place their personal feelings aside,” he said. 

On Friday, Griffen granted a restraining order preventing Arkansas from using its supply of vecuronium bromide, one of three drugs it uses in executions, because the supplier said the state misleadingly obtained the drug.

The ruling came a day before a federal judge halted the executions on different grounds. The back-to-back decisions upend what had been a plan to execute eight men in 11 days, starting on Monday, because the state’s supply of one of the other execution drugs expires at the end of the month. 

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Source: The Guardian, April 15, 2017

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