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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…

US court grants hearing to Brit held for 30 years

Krishna ‘Kris’ Maharaj
Krishna ‘Kris’ Maharaj
A British man who was wrongly sentenced to death in 1987 will be allowed a fresh hearing, based on evidence of his innocence, a US appeals court has ruled.

Kris Maharaj, 78, has always maintained his innocence after he was sentenced to death over the 1986 murders of Derrick and Duane Moo Young in a Miami hotel room. He has been held for over 30 years, and had his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment in 2002. 

Mr Maharaj’s lawyer at the human rights organization Reprieve, Clive Stafford Smith, has presented new evidence from people linked to Colombian drug cartels, who have conceded that they – not Mr Maharaj – committed the crime.

The new ruling from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta says: “Mr. Maharaj has made a prima facie showing that his new evidence, when viewed in light of the evidence as a whole, would demonstrate that he could not have been found guilty of the Moo Young murders beyond a reasonable doubt because if a hit man for the cartel committed the murders, Mr. Maharaj did not.”

The judgment said that the additional witnesses had presented “compelling” accounts that “independently corroborate one another's […] All five individuals' stories reflect that the Moo Youngs were killed by the cartel.”

The case will now move back to Miami for a federal hearing before a single judge, who will consider the new evidence.

As part of the proceedings, Mr Maharaj’s lawyers will also be able to access previously unexamined evidence showing that Jaime Vallejo Mejia – a guest in the hotel on the night of the murders – was a Colombian cartel operative. 

Clive Stafford Smith, founder of Reprieve and pro bono lawyer for Kris Maharaj for 24 years, said: “We still have a long way to go, as we need to force disclosure of the rest of the evidence the government has held all these years. But it is a great day for Kris, and I hope now we will finally get him the justice he has long been denied.”

Marita Maharaj, 77, Kris’ wife: “At last perhaps everyone will see the truth. Kris will be thrilled. He has been unwell, but this will finally give him hope.”

Further detail on Kris Maharaj’s case is available at the Reprieve website, here.

Source: Reprieve, April 4, 2017

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