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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…

Lethal injection drug bill headed to Oklahoma governor's desk

Even though Oklahoma's once-busy death chamber has been quiet for more than 2 years, the state Legislature continues to prepare for the return of executions.

A bill allowing Oklahoma Department of Corrections staff to handle drugs, like those involved in lethal injections, sailed through the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Thursday. House Bill 1679 now heads to Gov. Mary Fallin's desk.

The measure exempts any corrections employee and anyone who participates in the execution process from the Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Act. Fallin signed a similar bill in 2016 allowing corrections staff to store lethal drugs at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. Before that measure became law, only physicians and hospitals could obtain the necessary licenses to house those drugs.

The bill is designed to allow staff to handle lethal injection drugs without first attaining the medical licensing that is currently required, said author Rep. Harold Wright, R-Weatherford. The state Corrections Department, with legal assistance from the attorney general's office, requested the bill.

"(The attorney general's office) said that this was very important to get this done, because (execution staff) could be considered to be operating illegally without the license," he said.

The bill easily passed through the state Senate in April.

"I believe if a physician colleague of mine wants to help carry out something that is legal in the state, to make it ... easier on the person that's being executed, I see nothing wrong with that," said Sen. Ervin Yen, R-Oklahoma City, who is a licensed physician, during the Senate reading of the measure. "I'm not saying that I would want to participate, but I have no problem with a colleague of mine doing that."

Both bills were borne out of necessity, following the postponement of Richard Eugene Glossip's execution in 2015. Glossip's lethal injection was halted less than 2 hours before it was set to begin once staff discovered the state Corrections Department received the wrong lethal drug for the execution.

A grand jury later found the state Corrections Department lacked any verification process to ensure the proper drugs were obtained and administered. The department is rewriting its execution protocol, which must be approved by the state attorney general before it goes into effect and the state can resume administering the death penalty.

Oklahoma has not performed an execution in more than 2 years, the longest gap since the mid-1990s. The last inmate to be put to death by lethal injection in Oklahoma was Charles Frederick Warner in January 2015. An investigation by The Oklahoman later revealed Warner had been executed using a drug, potassium acetate, the state was not authorized to use.

No other state has ever used potassium acetate in a lethal injection, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Source: The Oklahoman, May 20, 2017

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