In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

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 airport mass killer Esteban Santiago won't face death penalty

Esteban Santiago
An Iraq veteran accused of a deadly shooting rampage inside Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport last year agreed Tuesday to plead guilty and serve a life sentence under a deal that would spare him a possible death sentence.

Five people were killed and six wounded in the rampage Jan. 6, 2017.

Esteban Santiago, 28, responded "Yes, your honor" when asked by Federal Judge Beth Bloom asked if he understood the proposed deal. Bloom ordered a mental evaluation to ensure Santiago is competent to make that decision, setting a hearing for May 23.

Santiago was charged with five counts of causing death at an international airport, six counts of airport violence resulting in serious injury, five counts of causing death during a violent crime and six counts of using a firearm during a violent crime, according to the indictment.

Convictions could have resulted in the death penalty, although no federal inmates have been executed since 2003.

Santiago flew from his home in Alaska to Florida on a one-way ticket on the day of the shooting, according to an indictment. His 9mm handgun was stored in a checked bag he retrieved from baggage claim and loaded in a nearby bathroom. Airport video shows him emerging and starting firing randomly until he ran out of ammunition and surrendered to a Broward County Sheriff's deputy.

The motive for the attack was murky. Santiago was briefly hospitalized for psychiatric care two months before the airport shooting after telling the FBI in Anchorage that he was hearing voices urging him to support the Islamic State terrorist group, The Miami Herald reported. He said the CIA was pressuring him to watch training videos. 

After the shooting, Santiago told authorities he had been "programmed" by the government and inspired by the Islamic State. In court Tuesday, lawyers for Santiago said he was remorseful and prepared to serve his prison time.

Prosecutors said U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions signed off on the plea agreement and that shooting victims' family members supported the decision.

Source: USA Today, The Associated Press, May 1, 2018

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