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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…

Oklahoma executes Jessie James Cummings

Jessie James Cummings
Jessie James Cummings
A man described by investigators as a cold and evil man was put to death Thursday at 6:11 p.m. at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary.

Jessie James Cummings, 52, was sentenced to die by lethal injection for the 1991 Coal County murder of his 11-year-old niece, Melissa Moody.

Cummings claimed that he was victim of a plot between his 2 wives and was innocent of the crimes.

Cummings is the 2nd Oklahoma inmate put to death this year. Terry Lyn Short was executed in June for an Oklahoma County firebomb killing.

At the time of the slaying, Cummings was married to 2 women, Juanita and Sherry Cummings. Both women lived with Cummings and had children with him. Prosecutors said Cummings controlled the women and urged them to kill his sister, Melissa's mother. Judy Moody Mayo, 42, was shot by Juanita as she sat in the living room of the Cummings' home. Jessie Cummings was in Oklahoma City with his father at the time of his half-sister's murder. Mayo's body was found near Atoka Lake on Sept. 9, 1991. Melissa's body was found about a month later in Choctaw County.

Prosecutors said Cummings helped the women dump his sister's body in a farm pond near Atoka Lake. After molesting his niece, she was taken to rural Choctaw County and stabbed to death, according to court records. Her skeletal remains were found Oct. 16, 1991 near the bridge over Clear Boggy River in rural Choctaw County.

It would take 3 years for investigators to solve the murders. In 1994, Juanita Cummings went to police and told them about the murder plot. Melissa Moody's body was exhumed and a medical anthropologist determined that she was stabbed to death, confirming statements from the Cummings wives.

Jessie Cummings was convicted in 1996 by a Coal County jury for the death of his sister and niece. The jury sentenced him to death. In 1998, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals threw out Cummings' conviction in his sister's death, saying testimony only from accomplices couldn't link someone to a crime. Juanita Cummings is serving a life sentence after being convicted of murdering Mayo. Sherry Cummings is serving a 35-year-sentencer for allowing child abuse and being accessory to a crime after the fact.

During his clemency hearing in August, Cummings continued to deny his role in the crime and asked the Pardon and Parole Board to give him clemency so we could, "continue to clear his name." The board unanimously denied his request. International anti-death penalty groups had rallied against Cummings' execution, but there were no protestors outside the gate of the prison in McAlester before the execution.

While Cummings denied his role in the crime, Attorney General Drew Edmondson said the state proved its case.

"Cummings was properly convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of Melissa Moody," Edmondson said. "Appeals courts at every level have upheld this conviction and sentence. My thoughts are with the family and friends of Melissa and her mother, Judy."

Cummings becomes the 2nd condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Oklahoma and the 88th overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1990. Oklahoma trails only Texas (414) and Virginia (102) in the numbers of inmates executed since the US Supreme Court re-legalized the death penalty in America on July 2, 1976.

Cummings becomes the 24th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1123rd overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

Sources: The Oklahoman, Rick Halperin, October 26, 2015

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