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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…

Push in Rural Kentucky to Abolish Death Penalty

The push for multiple executions in Arkansas has shed a harsh light on the death penalty in America, especially in the South, where capital punishment is legal in every state including Kentucky.

Here in the Commonwealth, it's been 8/1/2 years since the last execution and abolitionists say it's time to make life without parole the maximum sentence. 

Rob Musick, a religion professor and chaplain at the University of Pikeville, said there are several reasons why support is growing in rural Kentucky to make the death penalty illegal.

"Specifically, when you use the idea of government waste of money," Musick said, "oftentimes when the government is over-reaching into our lives, when the government gets some things wrong."

Kentucky lawmakers repeatedly have rejected legislation to eliminate the death penalty, including during this year's recently completed legislative session.

Musick is one of the volunteers who will staff the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty information booth at this year's Hillbilly Days. This event, the state's 2nd largest festival, runs Thursday through Saturday in Pikeville.

Musick said the reason he hears most from people who support the death penalty is that execution is a deterrent to crime. He disagrees.

"I say, 'Well, if that were being the case'," Musick said, "'then why do we see such an intense, violent crime-ridden country like ours where we have such gun crimes and mass shootings? If that really were working, wouldn't we see such less crime?'"

In 2011, the American Bar Association issued a report that found a myriad of problems with the state's death-penalty system, including its cost and duration. A recent poll found that when informed of those problems, 64 % of Kentuckians supported making life without parole the maximum sentence. So why hasn't the Kentucky Legislature acted?

"It has a lot to do with political courage and people just naming the elephant in the room," Musick said. "We know there are some key members of the House and Senate that are actually against the death penalty, but they don't want to put themselves out there yet, until they know it's a slam dunk."

Source: publicnewsservice.org, April 18, 2017

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