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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…

Utah: Bill stirs debate over costs of death penalty

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The subject of the death penalty has been a source of controversy for years, but one lawmaker is hitting it from a different angle with a proposed bill for the upcoming legislative session.

Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, wants the state to take a closer look at the costs connected with the death penalty and associated appeals versus the cost to house an inmate for life without parole.

"I was reading about what another state (Nebraska) was doing about costs and I wanted to look into Utah," said Handy. "When I started to ask around, I heard crickets - nobody knew because nobody had asked before. I decided to pitch a study item in 2012 for resources to have an analyst research it and he worked over several weeks with the assumptions of longevity being 75 years and how long the appeals process takes being about 25 years."

The appeals are taxpayer supported because the death row inmates don't hire an attorney Handy said, they use a public defender. "The study showed it cost (approximately) $1.6 million more of taxpayer money for appeals over the cost of a life sentence," he said. "I was trying to be fiscally conservative and add to the discussion but nothing happened. Then someone suggested I wasn't asking the right questions."

Last year Handy ran a similar bill HB187 but it did not pass. "This (new) bill has mostly the same language but has specific things asking for the legislative auditor to look at it," he said. "The auditor's office is excited to take on this study. It could take up to 9 months."

Handy is quick to point out that his bill is not intended to abolish the death penalty, simply to consider the costs. "Personally I've been all over the place with the death penalty," he said. "I'd say I'm more against it but it's something I've struggled with all my life. It happens so infrequently here in Utah. I don't think the populace in Utah is ready to get rid of it but this lets people think about it."

Currently there are 9 inmates on death row in Utah according to the Utah Department of Corrections.

"If you talk to law enforcement they say the cost is not relevant, more of an eye for an eye," said Handy. "It's a very emotional topic. I could be convinced one way or another (on the death penalty) depending on the crime in front of me but this bill has nothing to do with the pros or cons."

Bountiful Police Chief Tom Ross, who is also president of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association, said he is supportive of gathering data.

"I haven't seen the language of the bill but I wouldn't be opposed to looking at costs," he said. "It's a positive thing to do research on the pros and cons of any issue. It helps to make the best decisions on determining costs and getting the facts. If it went to abolishing the death penalty that would be a different discussion. I've worked with Rep. Handy before and even if we don't always agree, I appreciate that he is good to work with."

Even if the bill passes there is no guarantee it will happen, said Handy. "The legislative audit committee decides where to put those resources and what the pressing needs are," he said. "They're doing a number of audits a year to give the legislature information. They're the watchdogs for the public. The committee could still say 'not this year, maybe next year.'"

No matter the outcome, Handy believes it's an important topic. "I just want to have a robust study to look at the comparison on cost," he said. "We'll see where it goes, whether the public wants to pursue it. But it advances the discussion."

Source: The Davis Clipper, December 16, 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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