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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…

Execution date set for convicted killer in Alabama who is terminally ill

Alabama's death row
The Alabama Supreme Court on Wednesday set an execution date for a man who has spent 30 years on the state's death row.

Doyle Lee Hamm, 60, is scheduled to die on Feb. 22, 2018, according to Wednesday's order. Hamm has been at Holman Prison since December 1987 after being convicted in the murder of Patrick Cunningham.

Cunningham, an employee of Anderson's Motel in Cullman, was killed during a robbery that apparently netted about $410. In the course of the investigation, Hamm confessed to the murder; in exchange for being allowed to plead guilty to lesser offense, 2 accomplices testified against him. Hamm was from Mississippi at the time.

His lawyer said in a press release also issued Wednesday that Hamm is terminally ill and that execution would constitute "cruel and unusual punishment," in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Attorney Bernard E. Harcourt, his lawyer and a professor of law and political science at Columbia, said Hamm has been battling cranial and lymphatic cancer for over 3 years. Treatment for the illness has compromised his veins, and lethal injection would likely cause "cruel and needless pain," according to papers filed by Harcourt, who has represented Hamm since 1990.

"Overall, I have to say, it's inhumane to execute somebody who's at the end of his life suffering and battling with cancer."


"What we're litigating right now is the specific venous protocol for lethal injection as applied to Doyle's situation, given his lymphatic cancer, rather than the general cruelty of the drug cocktail in Alabama," says Harcourt, the Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law, Professor of Political Science, and executive director of the Eric H. Holder Initiative for Civil and Political Rights. "Overall, I have to say, it's inhumane to execute somebody who's at the end of his life suffering and battling with cancer."

Harcourt retained Dr. Mark Heath, an anesthesiologist and professor of medicine at Columbia University, to examine Hamm in late September 2017. Heath assessed Hamm's condition by using Harcourt's tie as a tourniquet to probe for veins because corrections officials did not allow him to bring medical equipment into the prison.

"There are no accessible veins on [Hamm's] left upper extremity (arm/hand) or either of his lower extremities (legs/feet)," Heath found. Use of one "potentially accessible" vein on Hamm's right hand "would have a high chance of rupturing the vein and being unsuccessful," he added in a written statement Harcourt filed with the court.

The inability of corrections personnel to inject the drugs properly could "cause Mr. Hamm to become paralyzed and consciously suffocate" and would be "an agonizing death," said Heath, whose research has documented problems in the administration of lethal injections nationwide.

7 % of lethal injections in the U.S. between 1990 and 2010 were botched, according to data compiled by the Death Penalty Information Center.

Harcourt asked the court to order corrections officials to disclose how they would successfully complete venous access for the execution, to appoint a special master to oversee a proper medical examination in advance, and to approve an agreed-upon protocol to "humanely achieve lethal injection."

Harcourt has fought to have Hamm's death sentence reduced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, arguing, among other things, that Hamm was sentenced based on an unconstitutional prior conviction and after ineffective assistance of counsel. In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Hamm's appeal.

Harcourt is assisted in the appeal by 2 students, Nika Cohen and Phoebe Wolfe, both in their 3rd year at Columbia Law School. Egon Von Conway, a 2017 graduate of Columbia College; Isadora Ruyter-Harcourt, a 2016 graduate of Barnard College; and Anna Krauthamer, executive coordinator of the Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought, are also working on Hamm's case and supporting the legal team.

In court papers, Harcourt points to the case of David Nelson, a death row inmate in Alabama whose veins were found to be unusable. Heath examined Nelson and testified on his behalf. Nelson's execution was stayed in 2003; he died in prison in 2009.

Hamm's execution is the 2nd one already set for 2018.

The Alabama Supreme Court set Jan. 25 for the execution of Vernon Madison, who was convicted of killing a Mobile police officer more than 30 years ago. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled Alabama can execute Madison-- who claimed to be mentally incompetent and was granted a stay of execution in 2016.

Source: al.com, December 13, 2017


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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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