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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…

Report: Alabama 1 of 6 states to execute inmates so far this year

Alabama
Alabama is among 6 states so far this year (2017) that have executed death row inmates, according to a review released Monday by the Death Penalty Information Center.

Arkansas and Texas have each executed 4 inmates, followed by Alabama, with 2, and Georgia, Missouri and Virginia with 1 each, according to the mid-year review by the Washington-D.C.-based anti-death-penalty group.

Alabama executed inmate Tommy Arthur on May 25 and inmate Robert Melson on June 8. Arthur was executed for his conviction for the 1982 murder for hire of Troy Wicker and Melson for the 1994 shooting deaths of 3 employees at a Gadsden fast-foot restaurant.

No other executions have been announced for Alabama this year.

Despite the 13 executions (of 43 scheduled but delayed or cancelled) nationwide, new executions and death sentences in the United States are on pace to remain near historic lows, the center reports. At the same time last year 14 of 39 scheduled executions had been carried out, according to the center.

Alabama was 1 of 5 states that executed inmates in 2016. Alabama executed 2 - Christopher Brooks and Ronald Bert Smith, according to a report from the center last year. 31 states have the death penalty.

"The numbers show that the long-term historic decline in the use of the death penalty across the United States appears to be continuing," Robert Dunham, the center's executive director, said in a statement.

1 state - Ohio - could determine whether the long-term trend in decreasing executions continues.

Last month a federal appeals court reversed a lower court's order that had declared unconstitutional Ohio's execution method using a three-drug combination. The three-drug method includes midazolam, a sedative involved in problematic executions in Alabama (Ronald Bert Smith execution on Dec. 8), Arizona, Arkansas, Ohio and Oklahoma. Ohio has scheduled 30 executions between July 26 and 2021, with 5 set for the 2nd half of 2017, according to Dunham.

Death sentences


The center also projects that new death sentences will remain near historically low levels partly due to Alabama and 1 other state.

Florida and Alabama have accounted about 1/5 of new death sentences nationwide in recent years, according to the center.

But Florida's abandonment of non-unanimous jury recommendations of death and Alabama's repeal of judges being able to impose death despite jury recommendations for life, is expected to substantially reduce the number of new death sentences returned in those states, according to the center.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey in April signed into law the override bill that says juries, not judges, have the final say on whether to impose the death penalty in capital murder cases.

Ivey signed the bill, which had earlier been passed by the Alabama Legislature.

The nation's highest court disagreed with a federal appeals court, and reversed its decision in the case of James McWilliams.

Mental disability case


1 Alabama prisoner also has been among 3 death row inmates who got favorable decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court so far this year, the report noted.

In McWilliams v. Dunn, the Court found on June 19 that James McWilliams' constitutional rights were violated when Alabama failed to provide him assistance of an independent mental-health expert, according to the center.

Source: al.com, July 11, 2017

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