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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…

California: Death penalty sought against Redwood City man accused of sexually assaulting, killing infant

Daniel Contreras
REDWOOD CITY — Prosecutors in San Mateo County will seek the death penalty against a 29-year-old Redwood City man accused of sexually assaulting and killing a 17-month-old girl left in his care.

Daniel Contreras is charged with murder with the special circumstance that he killed the girl — identified by prosecutors as Evelyn —  while committing a forcible lewd act, assault on a child causing death, and forcible lewd acts on a child, said Deputy District Attorney Sean Gallagher.

At a court hearing Monday, prosecutors informed the court they would be seeking the death penalty in the case.

The last death penalty case to be tried in the county was in 2006, when Alberto Alvarez was charged with the murder of East Palo Alto police Officer Richard May. A jury found Alvarez guilty two years later and recommended that he receive the death penalty.

James McNair Thompson, one of Contreras’s two court-appointed lawyers, said his client’s case, while sad, does not merit the death penalty.

“Even they would not contend it was an intentional homicide,” Thompson said about the District Attorney’s Office. “Even if they prove everything they think they can prove, this is not an appropriate death penalty case.”

Gallagher said District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe decided to seek the death penalty against Contreras following an “extensive background investigation” and discussions with members of his staff.

“He ultimately makes a decision based on what he feels justice requires,” Gallagher said. “It was an extraordinarily horrific crime against one of the most vulnerable members of our society,” he continued. “The crime just exhibits a complete lack of humanity.”

Prosecutors announced their intention to seek the death penalty against Contreras at a court hearing Monday.

Richard Keyes, Contreras’ other court-appointed lawyer, withdrew from the case at the same hearing, but it had nothing to do with the district attorney’s decision, said Thompson.

Contreras had been in a dating relationship with Evelyn’s mother for about two months prior to the girl’s death on Aug. 6, 2015. On that day, he reportedly convinced Evelyn’s mother to leave the girl alone with him for the first time. Over the course of a couple of hours, he repeatedly sexually molested the girl, according to prosecutors.

When Evelyn would not stop crying, Contreras fatally beat her, causing multiple skull fractures, prosecutors allege. He called his mother and aunt and told them the girl fell off a changing table, but an autopsy proved otherwise, according to prosecutors.

Thompson noted that county residents voted in favor of a 2016 state proposition that would have repealed the death penalty.

“It’s not like the citizens are demanding it,” he said.

Contreras is being held without bail. He is scheduled to return to court on April 12 for appearance of new defense co-counsel and to schedule further proceedings in the case.

Source: Mercury News, Jason Green, Mark Gomez, January 9, 2018


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

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