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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…

Florida Will Seek Execution of Nikolas Cruz in Parkland Shooting Trial

Nikolas Cruz
A Florida prosecutor said Tuesday that he would seek the death penalty against the man accused of killing 17 people last month at a high school in Parkland, moving the state closer to a rare trial for someone charged in a mass shooting.

Michael J. Satz, the state attorney for Broward County, made his decision public less than a month after the rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and one day before students nationwide were expected to stage walkouts to demand new gun-control measures.

The decision to seek the death penalty against Nikolas Cruz, 19, was widely expected, in part because Mr. Satz had hinted at his plans days after the attack. Lawyers for Mr. Cruz, who have repeatedly said that he would plead guilty in exchange for life in prison without the possibility of parole, are not expected to contest his guilt at what is certain to be an agonizing and emotional trial. They will instead focus on proving mitigating circumstances, such as extreme mental duress, that could persuade a single juror to block a death sentence.

But in a filing in Circuit Court in Broward County, Mr. Satz cited seven aggravating factors that he said prosecutors would prove and that would make Mr. Cruz eligible for execution. Those factors, enshrined in Florida law, include that Mr. Cruz “knowingly created a great risk of death to many persons” and that the capital felony at issue was “especially heinous, atrocious or cruel.”

Assault rifles
Mr. Satz, whose state has 347 people on its death row, had no comment beyond the court filing. In a statement last month, though, he said the attack at Stoneman Douglas High “certainly is the type of case the death penalty was designed for.”

Howard Finkelstein, the public defender for Broward County and one of Mr. Cruz’s lawyers, said Tuesday that Mr. Cruz remained “ready to immediately plead guilty.” Mr. Cruz has chosen to stand mute, which in Florida effectively amounts to a not guilty plea, rather than disputing his guilt in the massacre.

“We are not saying he is not guilty,” Mr. Finkelstein said, “but we can’t plead guilty while death is still on the table.”

Mr. Cruz has been indicted on 34 counts: 17 of premeditated murder in the first degree, and 17 of attempted murder in the first degree.

Relatively few suspects are ever brought to trial for mass shootings. Among the suspects in the 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern American history, only Mr. Cruz, a former Stoneman Douglas High student, was apprehended alive.

And prosecutors have amassed something of a mixed record in trials involving mass killings. Last year, for example, a federal jury condemned the white supremacist Dylann S. Roof to death for killing nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C. But in 2015, a Colorado jury spared the life of James E. Holmes, who killed 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora.

Source: The New York Times, Alan Blinder, March 13, 2018


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