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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…

Presiding Judge Sharon Keller narrowly wins Texas Court of Criminal Appeals primary race

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller narrowly won the Republican primary Tuesday night, overcoming a challenger who knocked her for her multiple ethical controversies.

The presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals took a step closer to securing another 6 years on the bench after narrowly winning Tuesday's Republican primary election.

Incumbent Sharon Keller, 64, beat David Bridges in the primary with about 52 % of the vote with 88 % of precincts reporting, according to the Texas secretary of state's office.

Keller was first elected to the state's highest criminal appellate court in 1994, and she has held the lead role as presiding judge since 2001. She and the 8 other judges on the court handle all death penalty reviews and serve as the last resort for all criminal appeals in the state.

Bridges, 62, challenged Keller largely based on her multiple ethical controversies over the years, which include a $25,000 fine in 2013 for previously failing to disclose nearly $3 million of personal real estate holdings and a 1998 opinion refusing to grant a new trial in a rape case despite DNA evidence suggesting the convicted man didn't commit the crime (he was later pardoned by then-Gov. George W. Bush).

Most famously, she rejected a 2007 final death penalty appeal because the lawyers filed it a few minutes past the deadline. Keller insisted, "We close at 5," and the man was executed that night. The decision brought questions from the state Commission on Judicial Conduct, criticism from state legislators and earned her the nickname "Sharon Killer."

In the dock, Judge Sharon Keller
She said in November that the controversy was behind her and noted that voters knew of those incidents when they re-elected her in 2012 - though she didn't face a Republican primary opponent on the ballot that year. A Democrat hasn't won a statewide office in Texas since 1994.

Bridges serves on the 5th District Court of Appeals, the lower state appellate court that covers the Dallas area. He has held his position on that court since 1997, and his term ends in 2020.

Keller will now face Democrat Maria Jackson, a state district judge in Houston, for the general election in November.

Michelle Slaughter also grabbed a Republican nomination for the court Tuesday night, defeating 2 primary opponents for the seat of Judge Elsa Alcala, who decided in 2016 not to run for re-election.

Slaughter, a state district judge in Galveston County, received nearly 53 % of votes with 88 % of precincts reporting, enough to avoid a runoff. She fought Bexar County Assistant District Attorney Jay Brandon and state District Judge Dib Waldrip of Comal County for the seat. With no Democrats running, she'll almost definitely take the seat in the general election this November (one Libertarian candidate is also running).

She was the only 1 of the 3 without a criminal appellate background, having worked in civil law before becoming a judge. But she also had the most conservative endorsements, including backing by Empower Texans, Texas Right to Life and numerous local Tea Party groups.

Republican Judge Barbara Parker Hervey is also up for election this year, but she was uncontested in the primary election. She will face Democrat Ramona Franklin in the general. 3 Texas Supreme Court seats were also up for grabs, but none of the positions had contested primaries. Justices Jimmy Blacklock, John Devine and Jeff Brown will all face Democratic challengers in November.

Source: Texas Tribune, March 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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