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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…

Georgia Death Row Inmates' Last Words: Apologies, Thanks, Defiance

Georgia's death chamber
Georgia's death chamber
Georgia inmate J.W. Ledford Jr. used his final moments to quote from the movie "Cool Hand Luke" and toss out an insult.

"What we have here is a failure to communicate. Some men you just can't reach. So that's why we have here what we have here today. I am not the failure. You are the failure to communicate," Ledford said just after 1 a.m. on May 17, before a lethal dose of the barbiturate pentobarbital began to flow into his veins.

"You can kiss my white trash ass," he added. "I'm just shaking the bush boss, let's do it."

It was one of the more unusual statements made by a Georgia death row inmate in the final moments. Strapped to a gurney that's tilted toward the witness seats, condemned inmates are given two minutes to make a last statement.

Many apologize to the families of their victims or thank their own families, friends and lawyers for support. Others insist they are innocent or rail against the justice system that put them there.

Georgia is the rare state that makes audio recordings of condemned inmates' final statements in the execution chamber.

The Associated Press obtained copies of those recordings (transcripts and audio) through an open records request. Some inmates chose not to make a final statement in the execution chamber.

Kelly Gissendaner, who was the only woman on Georgia's death row when she was executed in September 2015, sobbed through apologies to the family of her husband, Douglas Gissendaner, whom she had conspired to have her lover kill. Then she sang "Amazing Grace" as the lethal drug flowed, though the microphones had already been turned off by then.

Troy Davis, who inspired rallies and vigils in multiple countries after his guilt was questioned, maintained his innocence until the end, insisting from the gurney in September 2011 that he did not kill off-duty Savannah police Officer Mark MacPhail.

Source: The Associated Press, May 24, 2017

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