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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…

Supreme Court to weigh execution method that could cause inmate excruciating death

Russell Bucklew
The Supreme Court next term will consider a Missouri inmate’s contention that the state’s preferred method of executing him could cause him to choke on his own blood and will review a kind of class-action settlement in which no payments go to the members of the lawsuit.

The court announced Monday it is taking the cases, and will hear them in the term that begins in October.

The court, on a 5-to-4 vote in March, issued a last-minute stay to the planned execution of 49-year-old Russell Bucklew, who suffers from a rare disease called cavernous hemangioma. It causes blood-filled tumors to grow in his head, neck and throat, which his lawyers say could rupture during the state’s lethal injection process.

Bucklew’s attorneys have said Missouri should execute him using nitrogen gas rather than lethal injection, a method that has been floated elsewhere but never used by a state seeking to execute someone.

Earlier this year, Oklahoma said it would become the first state to use nitrogen gas for all executions going forward, a dramatic response to the inability of states nationwide to obtain the drugs used for lethal injections. Mississippi last year adopted nitrogen gas as a potential method of execution there.

Bucklew is not contesting his conviction for a particularly gruesome crime.

In 1996, Bucklew stalked his former girlfriend to another man’s trailer. He shot the man, tried to shoot the woman’s fleeing child and then captured the woman. He handcuffed and raped her, then wounded a police officer in a subsequent gunfight.

Bucklew later escaped from jail and attacked the rape victim’s mother with a hammer before he was recaptured.

In a brief to the court, Missouri Attorney General Joshua D. Hawley said Bucklew is simply trying to prolong his execution, and has not presented verifiable evidence that another manner of death would prevent suffering.

While Missouri’s law authorizes the use of lethal gas, “the state has no protocol in place . . . because that method has not been used since 1965,” Hawley wrote. “The state’s only gas chamber not only is inoperable; it sits in a museum.”

Bucklew’s lawyer, Robert N. Hochman, says Bucklew’s actions should not justify an indifference from society that he might suffer during execution.

“We refuse to punish with cruelty to protect ourselves against being party to cruelty,” they write. “We do so even when the temptation is powerful because the crime we are punishing was itself barbaric and cruel.”

In accepting the case, the justices told the state and Bucklew’s lawyers that they should address whether Bucklew has met the burden, announced in a previous death penalty case, “to prove what procedures would be used to administer his proposed alternative method of execution, the severity and duration of pain likely to be produced, and how they compare to the state’s method of execution.”

Bucklew’s lawyers said the court should clarify that inmates “need not custom-design their own method of execution in light of the idiosyncratic reasons the state’s generally lawful method of execution will prove cruel as applied to them.”

The case is Bucklew v. Precythe.

Source: The Washington Post, Robert Barnes, April 30, 2018

Supreme Court to Hear Cases on Death Penalty


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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court added three cases to its docket on Monday, agreeing to hear disputes about lethal injections, class-action settlements and arbitration.

Lethal Injections


The court agreed to hear an appeal from a death row inmate in Missouri with a rare medical condition that he says will cause excruciating pain if he is put to death by lethal injection. Lawyers for the inmate, Russell Bucklew, said his condition, cavernous hemangioma, would make him choke on his own blood during his execution.

In 2015, in Glossip v. Gross, the Supreme Court ruled against inmates challenging Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol, saying they had failed to identify an available and preferable method of execution.

In the new case, Bucklew v. Precythe, No. 17-8151, Mr. Bucklew did propose an alternative, saying lethal gas was preferable to the state’s current method of an injection of a lethal dose of pentobarbital. But the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, in St. Louis, ruled in March that Mr. Bucklew had not shown that his alternative would be less painful.

Mr. Bucklew was convicted of murdering a man who had been seeing his former girlfriend and of kidnapping and raping her. The Supreme Court stayed his execution in March by a 5-to-4 vote.

The case joins a second death penalty case on the court’s docket, Madison v. Alabama, No. 17-7505, which will consider whether Alabama may execute an inmate who has dementia and cannot remember the crime that sent him to death row. Both cases will be argued in the fall.

Source: The New York Times, Adam Liptak, April 30, 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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