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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…

Iowa: Capital punishment "is just plain wrong"

Medieval: An inmate is publicly flogged prior ho his execution by hanging in Iran
It just had to come up: Republicans want to revive the death penalty in Iowa during the next legislative session. 

It saddens us that Iowa would even consider lowering itself again into barbarism, state-sponsored murder. Thirst for revenge is a powerful force in politics. 

That's what drives capital punishment, those Old Testament eye-for-eye rules. We forget the New Commandment, to love one another, because it is so much harder.

Let's forget religion for a moment. We will come back to that. Let's think of the practical aspects:

-- Juries can be wrong. Northwestern University journalism students in Chicago discovered several death-row cases where the inmates were innocent, often done in by crooked cops or prosecutors. Who wants the execution of an innocent man or woman on the conscience?

-- Minorities are the victims. In Iowa especially, blacks have an inordinately high share of the prison population. It has drawn the attention of the Iowa Supreme Court, especially in how juries are selected. Capital punishment is skewed against minority communities.

-- People who commit murder in Iowa, unless they are juveniles, are sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. If it's revenge you're after, Fort Madison may be worse than the hell to which the executioner assigns the convict.

-- When you execute your only witness you foreclose important information about a threat to society that the convict may disclose from behind bars in hopes of getting better treatment. Why would we ever want to execute a terrorist who could give up information even 10 years later?

"Civilized societies do not use capital punishment."

Now back to the moral part:

It's wrong.

Republicans profess to be pro-life. We are pro-life. Almost all forms of abortion are morally wrong, as we were taught, but it is not something we are capable of legislating. As a people, we are hopelessly divided on this issue. There is no political solution in a pluralistic society, which is why the Supreme Court had to decide the issue. It is hard for us to see how you go back or craft penalties. We accept that as a tragedy and move on to the areas we can defend: Capital punishment is a grave evil that can be stopped by the political process. There is no exception to its nature as a wrong - there is no saving the life of the mother in an execution. Capital punishment is wrong in every instance.

When half the children in Iowa are born into Medicaid - that is, they are born poor - and they are denied a full education and they are subjected to every sort of depravation we can hurl at them, is that pro-life? And then, when they turn out all bad, we electrocute them or drug them to death or shoot them in the head - Which is cruelest and most unusual? - because they are a threat to or a burden on society.

Civilized societies do not use capital punishment. Nations like Iran do. It solves nothing. It makes the remaining victims feel no better, it does not bring closure. It brings more horror and less respect for life. If we value life, prove it. Drop the capital punishment talk now.

Source: The Storm Lake Times, Editorial, September 7, 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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