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…

Intellectual disability claim now at the center of decades-old death penalty case before Utah Supreme Court

The execution chamber in Utah State Prison.
A Utah man who has been on death row for nearly 30 years is back in state court fighting his capital murder conviction.

Attorneys for Michael Anthony Archuleta, now 55, argued before the Utah Supreme Court on Wednesday that their client is intellectually disabled, and therefore, legally cannot be executed.

The claim was initially made in a federal court appeal for Archuleta, who has been on Utah's death row since his December 1989 conviction of the brutal murder of 28-year-old Southern Utah State College student Gordon Ray Church.

But because the intellectual disability claim had not been brought before the state courts before, that portion of the federal appeal was sent to the state's highest court for consideration.

Archuleta's attorney, Charlotte Merril, argued Wednesday that her client's previous counsel in state court was "conflicted, underqualified and underfunded" and failed to see the "red flags" of Archuleta's intellectual disability.

Lawyers with the Utah attorney general's office countered by arguing that Archuleta's current attorneys waited until the last possible moment to raise the concern in an effort to further delay appeals that have stretched for decades. He called it a "victory" for a defense team to delay an execution, noting that the 2012 federal appeal has been at a near stand-still since Archuleta's attorneys raised concerns of intellectual disability.

"A guilty person on death row has every incentive to wait until the last possible minute to gum up claims," argued Aaron Murphy, assistant solicitor general.

But Merril disagreed.

"Sitting on death row while intellectually disabled is not a victory," she said.

The Utah Supreme Court took the matter under advisement, and will issue a written ruling. If the high court rejects the arguments - making it the 6th time that the state courts has rejected Archuleta's appeals - the federal appeal will still continue.

On Nov. 21, 1988, then-parolees Archuleta and Lance Conway Wood drove Church to a remote location in Millard County. There, they attached jumper cables to Church's testicles, used the car battery to shock him, raped him with a tire iron, beat him with a car jack and buried him in a shallow grave.

In separate trials, Archuleta and Wood each were convicted of capital murder. Wood was sentenced to life in prison, while Archuleta was sentenced to death.

He is 1 of 9 men currently on Utah's death row.

Source: Salt Lake Tribune, Jessica Miller, January 10, 2018

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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning