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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…

Washington state lawmakers to again consider eliminating capital punishment

Washington state's death chamber
A bill to be introduced this session would eliminate the death penalty in Washington state and require people convicted of first-degree murder to serve life sentences without the possibility of parole.

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson requested Senate Bill 6052 after other legislation failed to pass through a committee hearing last year.

“I’m reasonably optimistic that this could be the year,” Ferguson said, mentioning the bill’s bipartisan sponsorship. “The votes are there.”

Despite other legislative priorities, Ferguson said this year might be different with a democratic majority in the senate.

“The fact is that taxpayers foot the multi-million dollar appeals process for the accused, and we spend $50,000 a year for incarceration,” Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, the bill’s prime sponsor, wrote in an email. “A life sentence with no chance of early release saves money and issues the ultimate punishment by denying the convicted their freedom and liberties for life just as they did their victim.”

Allowing an individual’s right to appeal, Walsh also noted that there are cases in which a person can be exonerated if new evidence arises.

Still, the appeals process and litigation for these cases can cost the state millions of dollars, which, Walsh said, outweighs the cost of keeping someone in prison for life in many cases.

In a 2015 study from Seattle University’s School of Law examining 147 aggravated first-degree murder cases since 1997, authors estimated the average cost of capital punishment cases to be more than $3 million compared to cases that did not seek the capital punishment to be about $2 million.

The largest differential factors being trial level prosecution costs ,which are 2.3 times more expensive in capital punishment cases than cases that do not seek the death penalty. Court and police costs are 3.9 times more costly, and appeals are 5.7 times more costly in the same cases.

Walsh said the economic argument is a compelling one but says stories of the lives affected by the death penalty are also worth discussing.

There are eight incarcerated individuals on death row, according to Washington Department of Corrections. The last person to be executed in the state was Cal Coburn Brown in 2010.

In February 2014, Gov. Jay Inslee instituted a moratorium on executions in Washington state. The moratorium allows Inslee to grant reprieves so no prisoners are executed but does not pardon them. According to a press release last year, capital punishment is “unequally applied” and “sometimes dependent on the size of the county’s budget.”

Source: Auburn Reporter, Taylor McAvoy, January 7, 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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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning