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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…

America's Execution Belt

USA death penalty
The United States can't guarantee the condemned inmates it kills aren't innocent. Landmark court cases of the last decade have offered proof. Mistakes happen. Courts can err. Witnesses can lie. Representation can be flawed. But we still kill.

That lowers America into a frightful club of nations that continues to execute prisoners. Most of its members are among the globe's most repressive, dictatorial nations: North Korea, Libya, Somalia, Cuba, China, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. That is the company the United States keeps when it kills the condemned. The other 2/3 of the world - Britain, Germany, Canada, France, Scandinavia, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Australia, for instance - long ago stopped this form of state-sponsored killings.

19 American states have abolished the death penalty. They understand that executions do not deter murders, do not reverse the crimes and lessen the moral standing on which our society rests.

America's Execution Belt tends to follow the Bible Belt that dominates the South and Southwest. On Thursday, 3 of those states - Alabama, Texas and Florida - planned to kill condemned inmates. Only 1 did, Florida, which executed Eric Scott Branch for raping and killing a college student in 1993.

Alabama called off its execution of Doyle Lee Hamm, officials said, because they weren't able to complete it before the midnight deadline. Hamm, convicted of a 1987 murder, has cancer and his representatives say his veins aren't suitable for the IV required for a lethal injection.

Meanwhile, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott granted clemency to Thomas Whitaker, who played a role in the 2003 murders of his mother and brother. His father, who survived, had asked the governor to spare his son's life and sentence him to life in prison. Abbott, a Republican in America's most execution-friendly state, surprisingly agreed.

America's most reprehensible crimes deserve lifelong imprisonment and the public's trust in knowing the convicted will never again be free. But those few hours Thursday night opened a window into the flawed and complicated realities of America's execution system.

Source: The Anniston Star, Editorial board, February 23, 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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