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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…

Time for a bipartisan repeal of the death penalty

Abandoned prison cells USA
Pope Francis recently increased his call for ending the death penalty’s usage worldwide. He said, “We have to restate that, however grave the crime that may be committed, the death penalty is inadmissible because it attacks the inviolability and the dignity of the person.”

As a Catholic Republican legislator, who has previously sponsored death penalty repeal bills, I am encouraged by the Pope’s statement.

For decades, ending capital punishment in the United States was predominantly seen as a pet project of the political left, but a bipartisan effort is required to pass repeal in many states, including here in Washington. Given the vast divide between conservatives and liberals, for years, it seemed that endeavors to end the death penalty in certain states were a fool’s errand. Yet, times have changed.

The public is slowly turning against the death penalty. Growing numbers of conservatives, especially Catholics, are reconsidering capital punishment, and Republican legislators are sponsoring death penalty repeal bills at record levels. In fact, in 2017, Republicans sponsored more than 30 percent of such bills nationwide. Compare that to 2005, when there wasn’t a single Republican sponsor in the U.S. This is proof that a major development is underway. Republicans are turning against the death penalty, which means that opposition to capital punishment is no longer a partisan stance. As the death penalty slowly loses its supporting constituency, the punishment’s future becomes doubtful.

Myriad variables are driving this change, but for me, and thousands of others, the death penalty clashes with my beliefs as a Catholic. First and foremost, I am unabashedly anti-abortion and believe that all life is precious and intrinsically valuable from conception to natural death. I believe that we are made in the image of our creator, and life is the greatest gift given to us. I believe it is immoral to violate this sanctity and take a life created by and in the image of God. Given our modern prison system and ability to neutralize individuals as threats without killing them, it is never imperative to execute someone.

Despite this, some states continue administering the death penalty, but from my perspective, their state officials are overlooking an issue of major importance — nobody is beyond redemption. All people can find salvation, turn their life around and become a new person. Yet, by unnaturally and unnecessarily shortening their life span via an execution, we are potentially denying them the opportunity to find salvation and redemption.

My religious convictions are the primary reasons that I oppose the death penalty and have stood alongside an untold number of other Republicans who would like to see capital punishment end. However, there are many practical reasons why conservatives of all faiths are rethinking the death penalty. In states that execute inmates, there’s an ever-present risk of killing an innocent person. Despite instituting safeguards, mistakes continue to transpire, placing lives in danger. Meanwhile, the death penalty costs far more than any prison sentence and has been responsible for tax increases in many counties.

The high costs and risks become even more unjustifiable after learning that the death penalty doesn’t really benefit society. According to recent studies, there’s no valid evidence to suggest that executions impact homicide rates. Moreover, many murder victims’ families oppose capital punishment because it’s little more than a long, re-traumatizing process that doesn’t give them the justice that they deserve. Given all of these realities, it comes as no surprise that Republicans are sponsoring death penalty repeal bills at never before seen rates.

This Catholic Republican is grateful to see my church and my party taking initiative on this life-or-death issue. It is time to pass a strong, bipartisan repeal of the death penalty like Senate Bill 5354.

Source: The Seattle Times, Opinion, Mark Miloscia, December 28, 2017. State Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, represents the 30th District.


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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