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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…

Mary Jane Veloso: The woman the firing squad left behind

Mary Jane Veloso
This week marked three years since Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were executed in Indonesia.

I’ve always disagreed with the death penalty and after witnessing it unfold, I’m dead set against it.

The Bali Nine pair were shot dead by firing squad on the island of Nusakambangan, 500m off the coast of Cilacap, in central Java.

I was at Cilacap port and still remember the haunting sound of gunfire, the sound of the death penalty.

I stood in disbelief, surrounded by a crowd of locals who had emerged from their concrete-floored homes.

How could these men who I had studied, whose families I had watched go through gut-wrenching pain, be gone in this horrifying way?

As a journalist, I flew to Indonesia to report the facts but the experience affected me deeply.

Chan and Sukumaran were arrested in Bali in 2005 for trying to smuggle heroin from Indonesia to Australia.

They were convicted drug criminals but they were much more than that. Chan had become a pastor and Sukumaran a painter. But the Indonesian Government still killed them.

The Australians knew what was coming.

They had been given 72 hours’ notice of their executions — three harrowing days to say goodbye to their loved ones.

I saw it through the eyes of their distraught families as I covered the executions for Channel 7’s Sunrise program.

After that dark period in 2015, I returned to Perth and took up an offer of counselling.

I needed some help to process what I had witnessed.

So it was with some caution that I recently watched a documentary about the mass executions.

Seven others were also given notice of their executions. Together, they would be led to a killing field and shot.

Among them was one woman, Mary Jane Veloso.

Veloso was not a member of the Bali Nine but her conviction for heroin smuggling put her on the same path as Chan and Sukumaran — a path to death.

All that changed at the eleventh hour when the mother of two from the Philippines was granted a stay of execution.

At 12.35am on April 29, 2015, Chan, Sukumaran and the six others from Brazil, Indonesia and Nigeria were shot dead.

Sukumaran’s spiritual adviser, pastor Christie Buckingham, was at the executions.

She said Veloso’s reprieve came so late that they were not aware she was missing as the firing squad prepared to shoot.

“It was very dark and Myuran actually prayed out loud for her to have peace,” she said. “I did not discover until I was back at the port that she had been spared.”

Why was Veloso saved?

It is alleged she had been tricked into smuggling heroin into Indonesia and was needed to testify against her recruiters.

The port at Cilacap, where boats leave for Nusakambangan island.Then Philippines president Benigno Aquino contacted his Indonesian counterpart Joko Widodo and asked for Veloso to be spared.

Watching the documentary Hive: Guilty made me ask what happened to Mary Jane Veloso?

I began a search to find out how the story ended. In my mind, the single mother was out of jail and living with her two boys.

Perhaps, it was my way of dealing with the pain. I needed a sliver of light in the darkness that was a mass waste of life.

But it was a fantasy, far from reality.

Mary Jane is now 33. She is still in jail in Indonesia — and still facing the death penalty, three years after being given a last-minute reprieve.

In 2010, the single mother flew to Indonesia to begin a new life as a maid.

She was arrested at Yogyakarta Airport. Indonesian officials found 2.6kg of heroin hidden inside the suitcase she was carrying. Veloso said recruiters had secretly put the heroin in a bag.

She became a valuable witness for the Philippines and escaped Indonesia’s bullets. The death row inmate was moved from the island of Nusakambangan to a jail in Yogyakarta.

A court in the Philippines ruled that Veloso could testify against the accused recruiters in writing. But the Court of Appeals overturned that decision, ruling she must be able to be cross-examined in a Philippines court. But that is impossible because she is locked up in Indonesia. So Veloso is in limbo. She cannot go to the Philippines to testify against her recruiters and improve her chances of getting off death row.

In making its decision, the Court of Appeals judges acknowledged Veloso’s plight.

She has pleaded for help from Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, the man behind a bloody war on drugs that has claimed thousands of lives.

The Indonesian Government continues to postpone Veloso’s execution until the legal process in the Philippines is over.

Indonesia’s Community Legal Aid Institute said Veloso was “a victim of human trafficking and illegal narcotics syndicates and as such she should be protected, not executed.”

Veloso is not Australian but she is a mother of two young boys.

One of Sukumaran’s last paintings was a heart dripping with blood. On the back of the canvas, Veloso wrote: “Jesus always love us until in the eternal life. Mary Jane. Keep smile.”

It’s too late for Chan and Sukumaran but the fight against the death penalty is very much alive for Veloso.

The question is, do we still care?

Source: The West Australian, Matt Tinney, May 5, 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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