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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…

‘My life still has value’: San Antonio death row inmate begs for clemency 2 weeks before execution

Juan Castillo
With just two weeks to go before his scheduled execution, lawyers for lovers' lane killer Juan Castillo filed another plea for clemency Tuesday, arguing that the San Antonio man wasn't the shooter and highlighting the "manifest unfairness" of his case.

The 37-year-old former cook and laborer, who was sent to death row for his role in a 2003 slaying in Bexar County, is slated to die by lethal injection May 16 - his fourth execution date in the past year.

Now, Castillo's attorneys are asking the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles for a commutation in light of claims that he was framed as the shooter based on false testimony.

"He's been wrongfully convicted," said clemency attorney Greg Zlotnick. "No physical evidence places him at the crime scene at all."

Instead, Castillo's conviction rested largely on witness accounts, a fact that's come up in court filings, the first clemency petition in April and a supplement to the petition filed on Tuesday. The clemency requests also point to claims of bad lawyering and a judge who "rubber-stamped" an appeal rejection without letting the defense weigh in first.

"Our system of justice cries out for clemency in Mr. Castillo's case," the 173-page April petition notes.

The condemned man was originally convicted in 2005 of killing teenage rapper Tommy Garcia Jr. during a botched robbery.

Castillo's then-girlfriend lured the targeted man to a secluded spot with the promise of sex and drugs. But while the two were making out in his Camaro, Castillo and another man attacked, according to court filings. Wearing ski masks and carrying weapons, they dragged Garcia from the car - and Castillo shot him seven times in the process.

Castillo was one of four people convicted in the crime, but the only one hit with a capital sentence. Now, defense counsel says he wasn't even there at the time of the slaying.

During the punishment phase, Castillo represented himself - a decision made after he was "stunned" by the guilty verdict, and disappointed in his trial lawyer's performance.

He was scheduled for execution last May, but the date was reset after prosecutors failed to give 90-day notice to the defense. In September, he was again scheduled to die, but the date was pushed back again, this time in light of the impacts of Hurricane Harvey.

Two months later, his next execution date was called off in light of claims of false testimony from a jailhouse snitch.

"I described what Juan Castillo supposedly told me about the capital murder," former Bexar County inmate Gerardo Gutierrez wrote in 2013, according to court records. "Juan Castillo never told me this information about this capital murder case. This testimony was untrue about Juan Castillo. I made up this testimony to try to help myself."

Because of the recanted testimony, the case was sent back to a trial court. There, prosecutors filed recommended findings - but a judge ruled on them one day later, before the defense got a chance to file its recommended findings. The whole process, Zlotnick said, makes a "mockery of fundamental fairness."

But once the judge decided that the bad testimony wouldn't have actually made a difference in the outcome of the case, Castillo was given the May execution date.

"Failure to grant clemency to Mr. Castillo may lead to the execution of an innocent man," the petition argues.

The Board of Pardons and Paroles is expected to decide on May 14. If they side with Castillo, the plea for clemency goes to the governor's desk for a final decision.

In addition to the pleas for a commuted sentence, Castillo's appeals attorneys with Texas Defender Services still have claims in front of the U.S. Supreme Court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

"I'm not the worst of the worst," Castillo argued in a hand-written letter attached to the petition. "My life still has value."

Source: chron.com, Keri Blakinger, May 1, 2018


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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