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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 regulators block Texas, Arizona over import of execution drug

Texas sued in January for the drug's release, saying in its lawsuit that it was importing the sodium thiopental for legal executions.

A US regulatory agency told Texas and Arizona that more than a thousand vials of drugs they ordered for executions in their states from India in 2015, and seized by US Customs, will not be released to them, an official said on Thursday. 

The Food and Drug Administration notified the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the Arizona Department of Corrections that their confiscated shipments of sodium thiopental have been refused on the basis that the detained drugs appear to be unapproved new drugs and misbranded drugs, FDA press officer Lyndsay Meyer said.

Officials in Arizona were not immediately available for comment. "It has taken almost 2 years for the Food and Drug Administration to reach a decision, which we believe is flawed. TDCJ fully complied with the steps necessary to lawfully import the shipment," the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said in a statement. "We are exploring all options to remedy the unjustified seizure," it said. Arizona officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Texas sued in January for the drug's release, saying in its lawsuit that it was importing the sodium thiopental for legal executions. 

Sodium thiopental renders a person unconscious and was a staple of lethal injection mixes but has not been made in the United States for several years. "Texas appears to be trying to carve out an exception for this 1 purpose (using the drug in a lethal injection)," said Megan McCracken, an expert on lethal injection drugs and a professor at the University of California Berkeley School of Law. 

About 6 years ago, major pharmaceutical companies began imposing bans on sales of their products for use in executions, which left death penalty states scrambling to come up with new mixes and suppliers.

Many have turned to a less powerful, Valium-like sedative called midazolam to render prisoners unconscious. It has been used in troubled executions in Oklahoma and Arizona where inmates who were supposed to be insensate were seen twisting in pain on death chamber gurneys. Nebraska, South Dakota, Ohio, Arizona and Texas tried to import sodium thiopental from India between 2010 and 2015, according to court records and news media reports, but federal regulators blocked the moves. 

Previous attempts to import the drug have also been blocked by federal courts after challenges from death row inmates. The last major case was decided in 2013.

Source: Reuters, April 21, 2017

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