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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…

Florida Governor candidate Chris King opposes death penalty, supports legal pot

Chris King
TALLAHASSEE – If elected governor, Chris King said Tuesday, he would fight to outlaw capital punishment and refuse to sign death warrants.

An underdog candidate in a crowded primary with three other Democrats, King of Winter Park released his plans to end the death penalty as part of a broader set of criminal justice reforms.

As governor, King said he will seek to repeal the death penalty legislatively and work with Cabinet members to commute death sentences to life in prison. Both options would likely face fierce resistance in a GOP-dominated Legislature and a Cabinet that has had one Democratic member in 20 years.

But King also said he would refuse to sign death warrants – essentially putting a moratorium on capital punishment in Florida as long as he held office.

Other criminal justice reform proposals proposed by King include legalizing marijuana, setting a goal of reducing incarceration rates by 50 percent in 10 years by eliminating mandatory minimums for non-violent offenders, ending contracts with private prison companies and putting more money toward education and criminal justice programs.

“Florida needs fresh ideas and new leadership to reform its broken criminal justice system,” King said. “‘Turning the tide’ means reforming a system that needlessly criminalizes tens of thousands of nonviolent men and women in Florida. I reject the conventional politics of just seeking incremental change –– we’ve got to fight for bold, progressive ideas to make our justice system fair while keeping Floridians safe.”

Despite support among Gov. Rick Scott and fellow Republican legislative leaders, the politics of the death penalty has undergone a significant shift in the past two years.

In January 2016 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Florida’s capital punishment laws, which allowed a judge to make the final sentence upon the recommendation of a jury, were unconstitutional. The decision sent the case back to the Florida Supreme Court, which found in October 2016 that a unanimous jury was required to issue a death sentence.

The murky status put a de facto moratorium on capital punishment while the case made its way through the courts. Still, Scott has signed 27 death warrants, the most of any Florida governor since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, including four since the October 2016 ruling.

Source: Orlando Sentinel, Gray Rohrer, May 15, 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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