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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 Takes Crucial Step Toward Abolishing the Death Penalty

Washington state's death chamber
The Washington state Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would ban the death penalty, leading the state one step closer to ending the practice for good.

As the Seattle Times reports, the bill passed the Democratic-led Senate with bipartisan support. The measure would strike the death penalty from being considered as a sentencing option for aggravated murder. If the bill passes, the harshest sentence in the state would instead be life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The measure now heads to the Statehouse, which has a 2-person Democratic majority.

Thanks to Gov. Jay Inslee, there has been a moratorium on the death penalty in Washington since 2014.

Lawmakers cited the cost of maintaining the death penalty and incidences of wrongful convictions as reasons to abolish capital punishment. According to the Times, one Seattle University study from 2015 found that death-penalty cases in Washington "cost $1 million more than similar cases where capital punishment [was] not sought."

One of the co-sponsors of the bill, state Sen. Reuven Carlyle, said the vote was a reflection of the public's evolution on capital punishment.

"You cannot read a front-page story about DNA mistakes that has someone in jail for 35 years and not be jolted to the core," Carlyle said, according to the Times. "That has transformed the public's view of this issue."

In Washington, as in other parts of the country, capital punishment disproportionately affects black defendants.

One 2015 study found that jurors in Washington state were 3 times more likely to recommend a death sentence for a black defendant than a white one - despite the fact that prosecutors were slightly more likely to seek the death penalty against white defendants. This unequal application of the punishment was among the reasons Gov. Inslee instilled the moratorium.

If the bill passes in the Statehouse, Washington will join 19 other states and the District of Columbia in ridding themselves of the death penalty. 3 other states aside from Washington - Oregon, Colorado and Pennsylvania - currently have moratoriums on the practice.

Source: The Associated Press, February 15, 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