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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…

Florida: Convicted killer represents himself in courtroom where he faces death sentence

Jury box
Against the advice of the defense lawyers he fired and the judge who repeatedly gave him the opportunity to change his mind, convicted killer Peter Avsenew sat in front of a Broward jury Wednesday to defend himself against a prosecution team seeking to have him executed.

Avsenew, 33, was found guilty in November of the 2010 murders of Kevin Powell and Stephen Adams, a Wilton Manors couple who took him in after he posted a sexually suggestive ad on Craigslist.

The same jury that found him guilty listened to testimony Wednesday and will hear closing arguments Thursday to decide whether Avsenew deserves to be sentenced to death. An execution can be ordered only if the jury recommends it unanimously. Otherwise, Avsenew will be sentenced to life behind bars.

Prosecutor Shari Tate opened Wednesday's proceedings by reminding jurors that they already know most of what they need in order to find that the aggravating circumstances justify the death penalty.

Avsenew began staying with Adams and Powell in late 2010 and, after gaining their confidence, killed them, stole their money, credit cards and car, went shopping for outdoor supplies and fled to North Florida, where his mother eventually turned him in, according to trial testimony and court records.

"We now move on to something you all swore to consider - could you be open to the death penalty?" Tate said. "That's the decision you're here for now."

When it was his turn to speak, Avsenew punted, waiving an opening statement and declining to question prosecution witnesses, including Adams' sister.

Avsenew had been represented during the trial by Assistant Public Defender Gabe Ermine, whose colleague Phyllis Cook was prepared to handle the penalty phase after the conviction. But 2 weeks after the jury returned its guilty verdict, Avsenew fired his lawyers and told Broward Circuit Judge Ilona Holmes he wanted to represent himself.

In court Wednesday, Holmes asked Avsenew at every opportunity to reconsider - during breaks, after each conversation outside the jury's presence, and after lunch. Each time, he politely declined.

Ermine and Cook sat in the gallery with the rest of the public, standing by to take over if Avsenew should change his mind. He never did.

Avsenew presented no witnesses on his behalf, and Holmes scheduled closing arguments for Thursday, warning Avsenew that he will not be permitted to discuss any aspects of the case that were not presented during the November trial or Wednesday's penalty phase.

Source: Sun Sentinel, Rafael Olmeda, January 10, 2018


Man Who Killed Wilton Manors Gay Couple Receives Death Sentence


Peter Avsenew
A Fort Lauderdale man who shot a couple to death in 2010 was sentenced to death Thursday afternoon.

Peter Avsenew, 33, faced either a life sentence or the death penalty. 

During closing arguments, prosecutors showed the Broward jury photos of 52-year-old Stephen Adams and 47-year-old Kevin Powell shot dead inside their Wilton Manors home.

“I have no regrets in my life and I am proud of the decisions I've made. No one really knows what happened that day. Everyone can speculate what ifs and maybes until they're blue in the face, which they'll never really know,” Avsenew said.

The Sun Sentinel reports that prosecutors argued Avsenew killed both men then stole their money and car after responding to a sex ad on Craigslist. 

The defendant disagrees with that telling and stated in court that he found the men dead, but did not call police because he'd been working for the couple as an escort.  

Avsenew then rushed to his mother’s house, but she became suspicious and turned him in to the police.

Peter Avsenew was found guilty in November. Against advice from a judge and his former lawyers, the convicted killer represented himself at the sentencing hearing.

Source: Instinct, Adam Dupuis, January 11, 2018

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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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