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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…

Arkansas court rejects appeal of one of 8 inmates set to die in April

Executions have been set for (top row, from left) Kenneth Williams, Jack Jones Jr., Marcell Williams, Bruce Earl Ward, and (bottom row, from left) Don Davis, Stacey Johnson, Jason McGehee and Ledelle Lee.
Executions have been set for (top row, from left) Kenneth Williams,
Jack Jones Jr., Marcell Williams, Bruce Earl Ward, and (bottom row, from
left) Don Davis, Stacey Johnson, Jason McGehee and Ledelle Lee.
The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday rejected an appeal from one of eight inmates facing execution next month, as the state rushes to move forward before the expiration date of one of the drugs used to put them to death.

The seven-member panel, by a 4-3 vote, declined to take up the case of Jason McGehee, who was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1996 kidnapping and murder of a teenager. The court did not offer an explanation for its ruling.

Asa Hutchinson, the Republican governor of the conservative southern state, has sparked controversy by announcing that the state plans to execute McGehee and seven other death row inmates over a 10-day period in April.

The accelerated schedule comes amid a shortage of death penalty drugs across the United States, with Arkansas's stock of midazolam, a sedative used to anesthetize inmates, nearing its expiration date.

Arkansas has not executed any prisoners since 2005, and no state has carried out eight executions in 10 days since the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

The eight inmates have joined another death row prisoner in challenging state authorities' protocol for lethal injections.

There are concerns that midazolam does not bring about sufficient unconsciousness in detainees, who may in fact suffer severe pain while being executed.

Two of the prisoners are set to be executed on April 17, two on April 20, two on April 24 and two, including McGehee, on April 27.

The prisoners' joint lawyer John Williams on Thursday denounced the "dangerous" timetable for the executions, which increased the "risk of substantial harm already present" in the lethal injection protocol.

"The compressed execution schedule, asking an unpracticed staff to administer this protocol twice a day for four execution days in rapid succession, creates an extreme risk of harm and botched executions," Williams said.

Source: Agence France-Presse, March 16, 2017

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