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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…

Thomas Whitaker awaits Gov. Greg Abbott's life or death decision ahead of execution

Gov. Greg Abbott
As a death row inmate waits for the Texas governor to decide if he should live or die, he gets a final visit with his father, who survived his son's murder plot and later pleaded for his son's life.

Thomas Whitaker’s life is in the governor’s hands as the clock ticks toward his Thursday night execution.

Whitaker, 38, is set to die after 6 p.m. for the 2003 murders of his mother and brother in Fort Bend County. But Republican Gov. Greg Abbott could spare him by approving the state parole board’s rare and unanimous recommendation for clemency.

While Abbott weighed his decision, Whitaker met with his father, Kent, for his final scheduled visitation Thursday morning. If Abbott doesn't stop the execution, Kent Whitaker plans to stand behind a glass panel that peers into the state's death chamber and watch his son die, according to Keith Hampton, Whitaker's lawyer.

All seven members of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles suggested on Tuesday that Abbott change Whitaker’s death sentence to life in prison based on his clemency petition, which included pleadings for mercy from Kent Whitaker, who was also shot in the 2003 attack, and fellow death row inmates.

Texas' death house
It was the first time the board had recommended to change a death sentence since 2009. A Texas governor has not approved a board proposal for clemency since 2007. Nearly 150 Texas executions have taken place since then.  

Abbott, a staunch supporter of the death penalty, has until Thursday evening to make a decision. He could accept the board’s recommendation, reject it, or do nothing, which would also allow the execution to proceed, Hampton said.

On Tuesday night, Abbott said the decision deserved serious consideration.

“Any time anybody’s life is at stake, that’s a very serious matter,” Abbott told reporters at a political rally.

Whitaker, 38, was convicted in Fort Bend County for the 2003 murders of his mother, Patricia, and 19-year-old brother, Kevin. He planned the murders of his family with his roommate, Chris Brashear, who shot the three family members after they came home from dinner one evening. Whitaker had planned the murders to get inheritance money.

Whitaker was sentenced to death in 2007, despite pleas for a life sentence from his father, who survived a gunshot wound to the chest in the attack. The prosecutor rejected a guilty plea offer because he said Whitaker wasn't remorseful and was being manipulative.

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Source: Texas Tribune, Jolie McCullough, February 22, 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