In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

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…

Alabama House votes to shorten death penalty appeals

The Alabama House of Representatives Tuesday approved a bill that would shorten the appeals process for those on death row.

The chamber voted 74 to 26 for the measure, long a priority of the Alabama attorney general’s office. The House amended the bill on the floor, which will send the measure back to the Senate.

The vote in the Montgomery County delegation fell down partisan lines. Democratic Reps. Alvin Holmes, John Knight and Thad McClammy of Montgomery and Kelvin Lawrence of Hayneville voted against the bill; Republicans Reed Ingram of Pike Road; Dimitri Polizos of Montgomery and Chris Sells of Greenville voted for it.

Under current law, those convicted of capital crimes can appeal the decision, then file a post-conviction appeal known as a Rule 32 measure that can challenge aspects of the conviction, such as the adequacy of counsel. The bill passed by the House, sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, would require both processes to move concurrently.

Supporters say it would “streamline” the appeals process and take years off the appellate process, sparing victims of crime going through it.

“If a defendant is found guilty, the court appoints two different appellate attorneys, so he’s got two different people working for him,” said Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, who carried the bill in the House.

Alabama Attorney General Steven Marshall praised the passage in a statement.

“Each year that these appeals drag on, the general public is further removed from and even desensitized to the horrendous crimes that led to the sentences of every individual on death row,” the statement said. But, for the families of victims, the pain is not numbed with the passing of years.”

Opponents said by making the two processes concurrent, the state would make it more likely that an innocent person would be executed. Linda Klein, the president of the American Bar Association, sent a letter to House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston on May 12 urging them to oppose the bill.

“While the ABA respects the importance of finality and judicial efficiency, quicker resolution of cases where a life is at stake should not take priority over ensuring fundamental fairness and accuracy of those convictions,” the letter said.

Those arguments were echoed by Democrats speaking against the bill Tuesday afternoon. Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, said the Legislature was trying to “speed up the process of killing people” despite approving an amendment declaring Alabama a pro-life state during the session.

“This is Alabama,” Jackson said. “We understand we’re down in the South where we believe in killing people.”

The House accepted an amendment from Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa – who voted against the bill – to raise the cap on indigent defense from $1,500 to $7,500.

The bill goes back to the Senate for concurrence or conference committee.

Source: Montgomery Advertiser, Brian Lyman, May 16, 2017

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