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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…

Film: Executed For Drug Smuggling, new movie aims to capture journey to faith of Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan

Rev Christie Buckingham with portraits of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.
Rev Christie Buckingham with portraits of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.
When asked to take part in a new film about the journey to faith of Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan – two Australian men, members of the ‘Bali Nine’, who were executed for drug smuggling in Indonesia two years ago – it was a promise Melbourne pastor Christie Buckingham had made to Mr Sukumaran prior to his death that came to her mind.

It was not a promise that Rev Buckingham – who first met the men in 2011 and spent many hours with them over the ensuing years before going on to become Mr Sukumaran’s official spiritual advisor during his final moments - made lightly.

When Mr Sukumaran first asked her to take a vow that she would continue to advocate against capital punishment after his death, she’d spent some time thinking about it before, just as he was about to be transferred to Nusa Kambangan, the Indonesian island on which he and Mr Chan and six other prisoners were shot dead by firing squad, she’d told him her answer.

“I said, I will,” Rev Buckingham, a pastor at Bayside Church in Melbourne’s south-east, recalled recently, speaking to Sight from Bali where she was preparing to mark the second anniversary of the men’s deaths on 29th April.

“[I told him] I will speak to whoever, wherever, however – whether it’s one or 1,000 – I will speak out against the death penalty, I make you my solemn promise. And so he smiled and he was very accepting of that.”

So when Adelaide-based film-maker Julian York approached her about participating in a new short documentary/drama about lead-up to the men’s deaths – and, in particular, the journey to faith they had taken, her response was that not only was this a chance to honour the promise she’d made to continue to advocate against the penalty, it was also a chance to get out part of their story which she believes needed to be told.

While she had already been approached and agreed to take part in another film about the men’s deaths, Rev Buckingham says that what appealed to her about this project – which carries the working title of Execution Island (named for the island on which the men were killed) – was its focus on the faith aspect of the men’s story.

“I thought…this is part of their story that’s got to be told because I don’t know how anybody would go to their death singing and rejoicing and being kind and forgiving those people tying them up and saying ‘I’m really sorry this is your job; [that] you have to do this’ without having the strength of their faith,” she says.

“And so when they approached me, I absolutely could see their heart behind it. And I’d seen there were so many people who had really questioned themselves, saying ‘Could I do that?’. Myu’s last words were ‘Jesus, I trust in you’. And I said to the Lord, ‘I want that to be my last words too’ and I just sensed the Lord saying back to me, ‘Well you better start practicing now’. And so I’m practicing that, I’m trusting Him with their legacy. And there are many people that are speaking out for them and [against] the death penalty - I am one voice in the chorus.”

Mr York says the idea for the film stemmed from an article Rev Buckingham had written about her experience as a spiritual counselor to Mr Sukumaran on the first anniversary of his death.

“I remember following the story of Andrew and Myu closely as it was portrayed in the media and, I guess, like a lot of Australians, had an interest in it and literally felt sick to the stomach when I found that they were executed,” he says.

The film, which is expected to run no longer than 30 minutes, will focus on the last 72 hours in the lead-up to the executions and the relationship between Rev Buckingham and the two men as well as their relationships with the six other men who were executed that night (who, Mr York says, all became Christians).

Click here to read the full article

Source: Sight Magazine, David Adams, May 11, 2017

⏩ Related: To support the film, head to https://australianculturalfund.org.au/projects/execution-island/ or kept up to date with the film's progress at www.facebook.com/executionislandfilm.

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