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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…

Ohio lawmakers should keep the seriously mentally ill off death row: editorial

Ohio's death chamber
The Ohio General Assembly should pass a bipartisan bill forbidding Ohio to give a death sentence to someone convicted of aggravated murder - but also found to have a serious mental illness. He or she would instead be sentenced to life imprisonment, which is far more reasonable and compassionate.

Ohioans to Stop Executions and other death penalty opponents on Thursday called on Gov. John Kasich and state lawmakers to not resume executions next month and to pass legislation prohibiting death sentences for mentally ill murderers.

State Sens. John Ecklund, a Munson Township Republican, and Sandra Williams, a Cleveland Democrat, are lead sponsors of Senate Bill 40, which defines "serious mental illness" as schizophrenia; schizoaffective disorder; bipolar disorder; major depressive disorder; or delusional disorder."

Ohio already has a Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity defense. But retired Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, a Republican, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that NGRI "often does not apply ... [when] individuals ... may know what they have done is wrong, but their delusional thinking may cause them to believe they are impervious to punishment or that some greater force compels them to act."

Under SB 40, if a court ruled that a defendant was ineligible for the death penalty due to a major mental illness, he or she would have to be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole; life imprisonment with parole eligibility after serving 25 or 30 full years in prison; or, in certain instances, an indefinite sentence of 30 years to life.

In December, according to the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, there are 627 Ohio inmates serving life sentences without parole, while 140 other inmates are on Ohio's death row. SB 40 would create a limited-time procedure -only during the first 365 days after the bill became law - for re-sentencing to a life sentence someone already sentenced to death, if that inmate could prove he or she had a serious mental disorder at the time of the crime.

According to the Legislative Service Commission, the Ecklund-Williams bill embodies one of 56 recommendations made by a death penalty task force commissioned by Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, a Greater Cleveland Republican. Senate Bill 40 is common-sense, bipartisan - and humane. The Senate and House should send it to Gov. John R. Kasich's desk - soon.

Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer, Editorial Board, January 3, 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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