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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…

Texas inmate Robert Campbell has death sentence tossed out

The Allan B. Polunsky Unit, Livingston, Texas
The Allan B. Polunsky Unit, Livingston, Texas
For the second time in a week, a Texas death row inmate had his sentenced tossed out. Robert Campbell, 44, has been on death row for nearly 25 years in a Houston kidnapping and murder. 

A Texas man on death row for almost 25 years will now face parole review instead of an execution date. 

The Texas Attorney General's office tossed a death sentence Wednesday for a long-serving occupant of Texas’ death row in light of a March U.S. Supreme Court ruling on intellectual disability and capital punishment.

It was the second time in a week the sentence of one of the state's death row inmate's was reduced.

Robert James Campbell, 44, was convicted and sentenced to death for the January 1991 abduction and murder of Alejandra Rendon in Houston. Campbell kidnapped Rendon, a bank teller, from a gas station before raping and killing her, according to a statement from the Harris County District Attorney’s Office on the change of sentence.

In a recent appeal, Campbell claimed that he was not eligible for the death penalty because he is intellectually disabled. Campbell's tested IQ was 69, according to a court advisory announcing the sentence change.

Also impacting Wednesday's decision was the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in March in favor of a Texas death row inmate, Bobby Moore, that invalidated the state's long-standing method of determining if a death-sentenced inmate was intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for execution. The ruling called into question multiple death sentences, some of which are decades old. (Moore's case is still winding through lower courts.)

After the state psychologist's review and the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the Texas Attorney General’s Office decided that pursuing the punishment “would not serve the interests of justice.”

Now, Campbell will be resentenced to life in prison, which also means he will become immediately eligible for parole. In 1991, a punishment of life without parole did not exist in Texas, and parole became eligible after 15 years, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. But District Attorney Kim Ogg said she will file formal protests at any parole hearings and do everything in her power to keep Campbell in prison for the rest of his life.

“In unison with his victims and their families, we will do everything we can to see that he serves every second of his life sentence,” Ogg said in a statement.

Rendon's family was disappointed in the change of sentence, but accepted the decisions made by Texas and the U.S. Supreme Court, according to a statement sent by Rendon's cousin, Israel Santana.

“We truly believe that justice would have been properly served with his execution ... At this point, we can only hope and pray that Robert James Campbell spends the rest of his living years behind bars, and himself seeks forgiveness from our God Almighty," Santana wrote.

Last week, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals vacated the death sentence of Pedro Solis Sosa, who has lived on death row for more than 32 years. He will also become eligible for parole. 

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Texas death row inmate in March, sending his case back to the appeals court and invalidating the state's method of determining if a death-sentenced inmate is intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for execution.

Source: Texas Tribune, Jolie McCullough, May 10, 2017

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