In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

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…

Will Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey grant clemency to death row inmates?

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has been in office less than three weeks and she will soon face a life and death decision.

As governor, Ivey has the power to commute the death sentence of an inmate to life or grant a reprieve to delay an execution. 

The next one is the execution of Tommy Arthur, which is set for May 25. 14 days later the state also plans to execute Robert Melson, the man convicted in the 1994 slayings of three Popeye's restaurant employees in Gadsden.

What will Ivey do?

"The Governor is aware of the scheduled execution," Ivey's press secretary, Eileen Jones, stated in an email to AL.com regarding Arthur's execution. "She realized the serious responsibility she has as Governor regarding an execution. She plans to meet with the appropriate authorities to thoroughly review before making a final decision," she stated.

Only once since executions were reinstated in Alabama in the early 1980s, after a nationwide pause over the constitutionality of the death penalty, has an Alabama governor commuted the sentence of a death row inmate. Former Gov. Fob James did it with Judith Ann Neelley.

Governors almost never stop executions

"Have they weighed on me? "Yes they have. Very much so. And they should. We are talking about a human life in each case." Gov. Robert Bentley on the decision to commute or allow a state execution to take place

Former Gov. Bob Riley in 2007 stayed 1 of Arthur's executions for 45 days so the state could put in place a new lethal injection protocol. Arthur also had stays of executions 6 other times by courts. Next month's execution is the 8th one set.

On Wednesday Ivey, after consulting with her legal counsel, denied a request by Arthur's attorney to have DNA testing performed on a wig that prosecutors say was worn by the person who killed Troy Wicker, the man Arthur was convicted of shooting to death in a 1982 murder for hire plot.

A forensic expert had testified at a hearing in 2009 that he couldn't find any genetic material to test for DNA comparison. Arthur has been convicted by 3 different juries.

Denial of the DNA testing wasn't the 1st time Ivey has faced a decision about Alabama's death penalty in the short time she has had in office.

In one of her 1st acts Ivey also signed a bill into law that does away with judicial override - the process that had allowed judges to ignore jury recommendations for life without parole sentences and instead impose death. 

Alabama had been the only state that still allowed judicial override after Florida and Delaware did away with it last year.

Source: al.com, April 30, 2017

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