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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…

'Trading Jails and Death Row for Schools': Larry Krasner Is Sworn in as Philadelphia District Attorney

Larry Krasner
The longtime defense attorney vowed to "exercise power with restraint."

Larry Krasner, a longtime defense attorney with no prior prosecutorial experience, was sworn in Tuesday as Philadelphia District Attorney and immediately vowed to make reducing the city's high incarceration rate a priority.

Krasner ran on a reform platform, promising to change the system, fight corruption and battle social injustice. He said the central purpose of the District Attorney's office is "to seek justice in society."

His inauguration address emphasized social justice, characterizing his office's power "to communicate the truth and to exercise power with restraint."

He takes over for Acting District Attorney Kelley Hodge, who replaced Seth Williams. Williams resigned in June after pleading guilty to taking a bribe in exchange for legal favors and was sentenced to five years in prison.

Krasner has said he will encourage a number of reforms, including changes in bail practices that currently result in many poor people being jailed while awaiting trial and alternatives to incarceration for lower-level crimes.

Krasner has said he will target the 6 percent of criminals who commit most of the city's serious crimes, in part by spending more on proactive policing.

"We have to recognize that we can't incarcerate our way out of this. It hasn't worked for decades, and it's not going to work now," he said.

In his inauguration speech, Krasner referenced anecdotes about the effect that relying on tactics like incarceration and stop-and-frisk can have on communities.

"So today we start the long road toward trading jails and trading death row for schools," Krasner said. "... Trading division between police and the community they serve for civility and cooperation." 

Rebecca Rhynhart also made history as she became the city’s first female controller at the swearing-in ceremonies at Verizon Hall inside Philadelphia Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.

Her first priorities would be on auditing the city Department of Behavioral Health, the Sheriff's Office and the Philadelphia Parking Authority.

Source: nbcphiladelphia.com, Brian X. McCrone, January 2, 2018


Krasner becomes Philly DA: 'A movement was sworn in today'


For the 1st time in his decades-long legal career, Larry Krasner is a prosecutor.

The 56-year-old lawyer - who built a reputation in Philadelphia by suing the government and by defending activists and protesters - was sworn in Tuesday as the city's district attorney, promising to bring sweeping changes to an office he described as "off the rails" during his campaign to lead it.

"A movement was sworn in today," Krasner said after taking the oath of office at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. "A movement for criminal justice reform that has swept Philadelphia ... and is sweeping the United States."

Once considered a radical addition to a field of former prosecutors and government officials, Krasner - who earned convincing victories in both the Democratic primary and the general election - takes on an influential post overseeing about 600 employees in one of the busiest prosecutor's offices in the nation.

He has promised to end use of the death penalty, seek to end use of cash bail, and reduce the number of people behind bars.

And he reiterated those goals during his inaugural address, saying he wanted to begin "trading jails - and death row - for schools," "trading jail cells occupied by people suffering from addiction for treatment and harm reduction," and "trading division between police and the communities they serve for unity and reconciliation."

His swearing-in highlighted an inauguration ceremony for several city positions that was attended by Mayor Kenney, members of City Council, and state and federal legislators and other elected officials.

Meanwhile, Rebecca Rhynhart - who, like Krasner, has said she is part of a new Democratic movement in a city long controlled by an old guard - took the oath of office as the new city controller, the 1st woman to hold the position. More than 20 Common Pleas and Municipal Court judges also were sworn in.

"Philadelphia is changing, and people want more from their government," Rhynhart said. "People want change."

Rhynhart, 43, who defeated incumbent Alan Butkovitz in the Democratic primary before securing a general election victory, vowed to use her role as the city's top fiscal manager to probe potential waste or mismanagement at agencies including the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which has been engulfed in scandal.

She also said she wanted to help diversify city government and help wash away the "mediocrity and corruption we see every day."

"We need to show the people of Philadelphia that our leaders will be just as good as the residents here," she said, drawing a laugh from the audience.

Still, it was Krasner who received the most enthusiastic response from the crowd. They rose to their feet as his wife, Common Pleas Judge Lisa M. Rau, swore him in. He placed his hand on a Bible held by their son, Nathan, 26. When the act was finished, some in the audience briefly chanted, "Lar-ry! Lar-ry!"

Kenney, in a line that led to cheers from those in the audience, said Krasner's background as a public defender and civil rights attorney made him "the right man for this job at the right time."

Krasner grew up in St. Louis, the son of a crime-fiction author and an evangelical Christian minister. He graduated from the University of Chicago and Stanford Law School, then worked in Philadelphia as a federal public defender before opening his own practice in 1993.

He was part of a team of lawyers who defended about 400 protesters arrested at the 2000 Republican National Convention, has represented Black Lives Matter activists, and has sued law enforcement or the government on behalf of clients 75 times.

His candidacy - which was supported by liberal billionaire George Soros and was credited with pulling his competitors farther to the political left - rankled the police union. John McNesby, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, was a frequent critic, and a group of former assistant district attorneys also raised concerns during the race.

But McNesby softened his rhetoric after Krasner's victory in the general election. And Krasner has said he is optimistic that the rank-and-file will support him and his agenda.

He assumes an office that has been plagued by turmoil in recent years. Former District Attorney Seth Williams pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges last year and resigned, leading to the appointment of interim District Attorney Kelley Hodge.

But the mood at the inauguration Tuesday was largely celebratory and divorced from such news. Krasner repeatedly addressed the crowd as "family," and he happily embraced his wife and applauded with the crowd after finishing his speech.

When practicing the swearing-in before the crowd arrived, Rau asked him how he was feeling. "Terrified," Krasner joked. "Just kidding."

Still, he may have quickly gotten a taste of life as an elected official. Almost as soon as the proceedings were over, a small group of Black Lives Matter protesters demanded that he make a statement about a fatal police shooting in East Germantown last month - and threatening to "shut down" the city if he didn't.

Krasner, speaking briefly with reporters before leaving for a family lunch and then into the office, said he needed to evaluate the facts before drawing conclusions about any shootings by police.

Source: philly.com, 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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