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…

Nebraska: Omaha attorney signs on to help fight Jose Sandoval's execution

An Omaha attorney will represent condemned killer Jose Sandoval in his bid to fight the state's attempt to execute him via lethal injection.

Attorney Stu Dornan filed a motion in Madison County District Court this week arguing that Sandoval, 38, should be resentenced to life in prison or have another capital sentencing hearing.

The Legislature repealed the death penalty in May 2015, then nullified the governor's veto of the bill (LB268) with another vote. The repeal, Dornan said, went into effect Aug. 30 before it was suspended again because of an initiative referendum vote.

"Mr. Sandoval is subject to a uniquely cruel and unprecedented form of psychological suffering through alternating periods of relief and terror as he has been told that his life would be spared, and then told again that he would be executed," the motion said.

That raises constitutional issues that must be addressed, Dornan said Friday. It's possibly the 1st time that something like this has happened.

Among other issues, the motion argues the repeal of the Legislature's bill was unconstitutional because it imposed a new death sentence on condemned inmates without an additional court hearing or trial.

Madison County Attorney Joe Smith, who prosecuted Sandoval, Erick Vela, Jorge Galindo and Gabriel Rodriguez for killing five people at a Norfolk bank in 2002, said it was his view the death penalty repeal never went into effect, and so there was never a lapse in the death sentences. That's what he would argue, he said.

Attorney General Doug Peterson declined to comment Friday on the Sandoval motion. Both he and Solicitor General James Smith have filed with the court as attorneys to represent the state in the case.

No request to the Nebraska Supreme Court for an execution warrant for Sandoval has been made, but Corrections Director Scott Frakes served notice to Sandoval of the lethal injection drugs that would be administered to cause his death if an execution takes place. The combination of drugs chosen has never been used in an execution.

Medical research highlights the psychological and emotional pain felt by those who face impending death, and how that anxiety is aggravated when uncertainty does not allow a person to prepare adequately. The motion compared it to a form of torture.

"The state has ping-ponged Mr. Sandoval from death to life and to death again," the motion said. "His individual fate became hostage to an ongoing political contest between the Legislature, the governor and the voters."

Sandoval has been in prison since 2003, sentenced for 14 crimes, including 5 death sentences for murders of 5 men and women in a U.S. Bank branch in Norfolk, and 2 life sentences for murders of 2 other men in Madison County.

Dornan took on Sandoval's case after he was asked by ACLU of Nebraska to file the motion in Madison County. He also agreed to a different request to accept an appointment in federal court as the local attorney for any lawsuits or appeals that would be filed there.

As the previous Douglas County Attorney, Dornan has prosecuted cases that sought the death penalty. He has represented people in capital cases, but has not represented a condemned prisoner fighting execution, he said.

The death penalty is important to all Nebraskans, Dornan said.

"I believe there is no higher calling for a lawyer than to represent an indigent person on an important question of constitutional law, especially when the stakes are as high as they are in death penalty cases," he said.

In the motion, Dornan said those who led the execution reinstatement petition drive went beyond campaigning for the state to keep the death penalty, by focusing on the execution of Sandoval, and others on death row.

Television advertisements showed pictures of the men and described their crimes while ominous music played in the background, the motion said. An ad linked to the Nebraskans for the Death Penalty website opened with a photo of Sandoval and talked about how the men on death row terrified communities and devastated families, and how the death penalty protects the public, acts as a strong deterrent and gives justice to families.

Dornan said other lawsuits on behalf of death row inmates are pending, including ACLU litigation regarding the legality of the ballot initiative, a separation of powers issue involving Gov. Pete Ricketts, and the secrecy of lethal injection drug suppliers.

Source:  Lincoln Journal Star, December 8, 2017

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but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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