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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…

Warden Describes Life on Texas Death Row in Delacruz Testimony

Death row cell, Polunsky Unit, Livingston, Texas
Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison warden Stephen Bryant testified about living conditions on death row for jurors in the Isidro Delacruz trial on April 3, 2018.

Jurors unanimously sentenced Delacruz to death late Tuesday for the murder of 5-year-old Naiya Villegas on Sept. 2, 2014.

District Judge Ben Woodard told Delacruz his case was automatically appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest criminal state court in Texas. He also informed Delacruz that he had appointed Hilary Sheard as his appellant attorney. Sheard will work with Delacruz's current court-appointed attorneys to begin the mandatory appeal of his capital murder conviction.

Sheard is a capital murder appellant qualified indigent defense attorney.

There are 229 male inmates on Texas death row. Isidro Delacruz will be the only inmate from Tom Green County.

Bryant is Senior Warden at the Pam Lychner State Prison in Humble, TX and spent 8 years working on Texas death row in the Allan B. Polunsky unit in Livingston, TX.

As we reported earlier, Bryant testified that offenders sentenced to death are sent to the Polunsky Unit in Livingston. He told attorneys that death row inmates are confined to their 6 ft. by 10 ft. cells 22 hours a day and are allowed just 2 hours a day for recreation. 

Recreation is allowed in a concrete walled room about the size of an average garage. 

Death row inmates are not allowed contact visits according to Bryant. The warden told attorneys there are different levels of offenders on death row based upon their level of obeying prison rules.

Bryant said the typical day in the life of an inmate on death row begins at 3 to 3:30 a.m. when they serve breakfast. He said that's because the general population is served breakfast at 3 to 3:30 a.m. because all offenders are required to have a job and many of those jobs begin at 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. and many inmates need medications at that time. Those meds would include insulin for diabetics, and etc.

Under questioning from District Attorney Allison Palmer, Bryant testified that the difference between offenders sentenced to death and those sentenced to life in prison without parole is significant. 

Death row inmates remain in their cells, don't have jobs and are not allowed contact visits ever. 

A death row inmate's visit is restricted to non-contact through a glass window and talking over a phone.

Death row, Polunsky Unit, Livingston, Texas
Bryant testified that death row offenders are provided services "Cell side." That is, they receive almost all benefits in their cells. Offenders sentenced to life must leave their cells and walk to appointments for medical service, educational service, counseling and jobs. 

Bryant told attorneys that all offenders in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice must be assigned a job. Some are not physically able to work, but they have an assigned job anyway. 

Death row offenders do not work, however.

Bryant said offenders are served lunch from 9:30 to 10:00 a.m. and then supper starts at 3:30 p.m.

Death row offenders are strip searched, shackled and accompanied by 2 corrections officers every time they leave their cells. There are no televisions on death row, only radios.

Bryant described to attorneys how death row offenders are treated when they leave their cells. They are strip searched. They take off all their clothing and show all their body cavities to corrections officers. Then they re-dress and place their hands behind their back through a slot in the cell door so corrections officers can handcuff them. Then 2 corrections officers shackle their feet and grab them by the upper arm and take them to where ever they are appointed to be.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, inmates sentenced to death on average spend 10 years on death row and many spend at least 20 years awaiting execution.

➤ Texas Death Row: To see photographs of the living conditions of confinement on Texas' Death Row, see this link

Source: sanangelolive.com, April 19, 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