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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…

Alabama: Death row inmate set to die in June challenges midazolam ruling

An Alabama death row inmate has asked a federal appeals court to block his execution for the slayings of 3 people 23 years ago.

Robert Melson, 45, is set to die by lethal injection on June 8. His attorney, John Palombi with the Federal Defenders for the Middle District of Alabama, filed a motion last week in the 11th District Court of Appeals asking for the execution to be stayed until a judge can review and rule on Melson's appeal.

A lower court previously dismissed Melson's challenge to Alabama's 3-drug lethal injection method of execution because the motion was filed past the deadline, court records show. His appeal to the 11th Circuit states that the court should conduct a hearing on Melson's method of execution challenge, and delay the execution until those issues are resolved.

Melson was convicted in Etowah County for fatally shooting 3 people, and injuring another, at a Gadsden Popeye's Chicken & Biscuits restaurant in April 1994. He has been on death row since May 1996.

Another man, Cuhuatemoc Peraita, was also convicted in the crime. Peraita was originally sentenced to life in prison but was moved to Alabama's death row after his conviction for his role in stabbing another inmate to death in 2001.

Employees Tamika Collins, 18, Nathaniel Baker, 17, and Darrell Collier, 23, were killed in the shooting. Bryant Archer was the only survivor and identified Melson as the shooter. Prosecutors said Peraita planned the crime.

Melson's previous 2 appeals were denied. He has exhausted his direct appeal, state postconviction remedies, and federal habeas remedies, the Alabama Attorney General's Office previously stated.

Court documents filed in Melson's case argue the switch to midazolam from pentobarbital has caused a "method of execution that has failed to work properly in 4 states, including Alabama."

The documents state the district court that denied Melson's case on the midazolam switch must hold a trial on the issues raised in his motion. It continues, "Mr. Melson's execution should be stayed pending the resolution of his and the other challenge to Alabama's method of execution."

The filing seeking a halt to the execution states a list of reasons why the stay should be granted: Melson meets the standard for being granted a stay, would likely be successful on appeal, his motion should not have been dismissed in the lower courts, Melson is not required to suggest a 3-drug alternative method of execution, and he will suffer "irreparable harm" if a stay is not granted.

The document also states Melson's attorneys should be able to use either cell phones or landline phones during the time of his execution, should something go wrong. According to court documents, prohibiting phones in the prison and witness rooms violates Melson's "right to access to the courts."

Former death row inmate Tommy Arthur raised similar claims about phones and method of execution in his appeals, but courts - including the U.S. Supreme Court - denied his motions. He was executed on May 25.

The Attorney General's Office stated in its Jan. 18 motion to the Alabama Supreme Court, "Melson committed his horrific crime many years ago, and his conventional appeals have been completed for several years."

The office declined to comment on the newest motion.

Source: al.com, May 31, 2017

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