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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…

California death row inmate to be freed; no retrial planned

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A man who spent nearly 25 years on California's death row for raping and killing a toddler before his conviction was overturned won't be retried and could be freed within days, authorities said Tuesday.

Vicente Benavides Figueroa, 68, has remained in prison even though the state Supreme Court last month overturned his 1993 conviction on grounds that medical testimony at his trial was false.

Many doctors who testified to the cause of the girl's injuries recanted.

Kern County Dist. Atty. Lisa Green said Tuesday that prosecutors won't retry Benavides for first-degree murder and that without the medical testimony, it would be "difficult, if not impossible" to win a conviction for second-degree murder.

Even if Benavides was convicted on the lesser charge, he would be immediately eligible for parole, Green said.

Benavides will remain on death row at San Quentin prison until a court order to release him is submitted, said Terry Thornton, spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Benavides could be freed quickly once the order is provided, Thornton said.

"I've seen it happen in as little as a few hours but it definitely would be within a few days," she said.

Benavides was babysitting his girlfriend's nearly 2-year-old daughter, Consuelo Verdugo, in Delano in 1991 while the mother was at work. The couple took the injured child to an emergency room. She died about a week later.

The couple told doctors that the girl had hit her head on a door, but at trial the defense said the girl may have been struck by a car when she got out of the house and Benavides briefly lost sight of her.

A forensic pathologist concluded that the girl died from anal injuries from being sodomized, and several doctors testified that the girl's injuries were caused by sexual assault.

But nearly all later recanted, saying they hadn't seen her full medical records that indicated there was no evidence of sexual assault when the girl was first hospitalized.

They also said her genital and other injuries may have been caused by her medical treatment and some said the purported cause of death was "anatomically impossible," according to the state Supreme Court's ruling.

Source: Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, April 17, 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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