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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…

The Future of Executions in Arkansas

Arkansas put 4 men to death in April, but the debate on whether it should continue execution sentences carries on.

Prior to April, Arkansas hadn't executed a prisoner since 2005.

Now that the state's supply of midazolam, 1 of 3 drugs it uses in an approved lethal injection cocktail, has expired, some question if and how the state will move forward with the remaining death row inmates.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said there are 29 prisoners on death row, and 4 of them have exhausted appeals.

Rutledge said she expects to move forward with more executions in mid-to-late May or early summer.

Changing the Lethal Injection Process


1 aspect of Arkansas' execution process that has been repeatedly questioned is the use of the drug midazolam.

In 2015, the state's current 3-drug cocktail was passed into law by the Legislature. That same law was later upheld by the Arkansas Supreme Court.

One of the challenges with changing any aspect of the execution process is it opens up the potential for new lawsuits and court battles.

Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, said as long as the majority of Arkansans support the death penalty, he and other legislators will keep fighting to make sure the families of murder victims see justice.

He described the death penalty as a battle between the Legislature and judiciary that'll continue until 1 side ceases fighting.

Collins said as obstacles to executing death row inmates arise, the Legislature will make changes to current policy as necessary to move forward.

"We will make tweaks and adjustments for the executive branch to implement it," he said.

Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, said he would be in favor of changing the cocktail if it would prove more effective for those being put to death.

"If we're going to have the death penalty, I want it to be reliable," Leding said.


Dropping Lethal Injection


If, for some reason, the state couldn't continue with lethal injection, electrocution would become the main method of execution, according to DeathPenaltyInfo.Org.

Another alternative that has been suggested is a firing squad, but Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he is opposed to that execution method. He said it "takes us back" and is "not acceptable in today's world."

Leding said he doesn't support firing squads or electrocution as execution methods.

Collins said he doesn't believe the Legislature would fall back on electrocution as the main method of execution. Instead, he said lawmakers would go "back to the drawing board" and examine the will of the people to see if Arkansans still support capital punishment.

Abolishing the Death Penalty


Leding said, as a Catholic, he's personally opposed to capital punishment, and a number of bills in the past have been filed to get rid of it in Arkansas.

1 of the most recent bills was filed in March by Rep. Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff. It failed to become law.

Leding said he'd support bills like Flowers' that would end the death penalty.

"I would absolutely support a bill to abolish the death penalty," Leding said.

The Fayetteville Democrat also said he wants more transparency in the state's current execution process.

Collins said executions in Arkansas will end when people stop killing other people, and as long as his constituents continue to support the death penalty, he'll fight for it.

Source: nwahomepage.com, May 5, 2017

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