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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…

Pennsylvania: Execution notice signed for Upper Merion baby killer

Raghunandan Yandamuri
An Upper Merion man sentenced to death for killing a baby and her grandmother during a bungled kidnapping in 2012 has an execution date in February, but will likely get a reprieve because a death penalty moratorium previously was put in place by Gov. Tom Wolf.

On Monday, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel signed a "Notice of Execution" setting Friday, Feb. 23, for the execution of Raghunandan Yandamuri.

"The law provides that when the governor does not sign a warrant of execution within the specified time period, the secretary of corrections has 30 days within which to issue a notice of execution," officials from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections wrote in a news release announcing Yandamuri's execution date.

Attempts to reach department officials for additional comment on Monday were unsuccessful.

Wolf imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in 2015 and state officials are awaiting the results of a study conducted by the Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment, a legislative commission, before moving forward with any executions.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court subsequently upheld the governor's authority to postpone executions. Pennsylvania has not executed anyone on death row since 1999.

Yandamuri, now 32, was convicted of 1st-degree murder and sentenced to death by a jury in 2014 in connection with the Oct. 22, 2012, deaths of 61-year-old Satyavathi Venna and her 10-month-old granddaughter, Saanvi, at The Marquis apartment complex in Upper Merion.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed his conviction in October, according to court records.

Governor Tom Wolf
At trial, then First Assistant District Attorney Kevin R. Steele and Deputy District Attorney Samantha Cauffman characterized the case as a kidnapping for ransom that went horribly awry. Prosecutors alleged Yandamuri, a native of India and a neighbor to the Venna family, was desperate for money to repay a litany of gambling debts and targeted his victims with the kidnapping scheme because he believed they had money.

Yandamuri initially denied killing the victims but later allegedly told police that when he entered the victims' apartment, he grabbed Saanvi, but dropped her during a deadly scuffle with the grandmother. When he could not quell the child's cries, he stuffed a handkerchief in her mouth and secured it with a bath towel, according to the arrest affidavit. Yandamuri then placed Saanvi in a blue suitcase, according to trial testimony. The little girl was found dead Oct. 26 in the basement of the apartment complex.

In November 2014, Judge Steven T. O'Neill formally sentenced Yandamuri to death for the murders.

Lead prosecutor Steele went on to be elected district attorney in November 2015 and took office in January 2016.

Source: timesherald.com, January 9, 2018


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

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