Kentucky

Kentucky

Kentucky Lethal Injection Protocol Under Scrutiny

Executions have been on hold in Kentucky since 2010, when Franklin Circuit Judge Philip Shepherd began a review of the state's lethal injection protocol. The state revised its protocol in 2012 to call for a one-drug method, with a two-drug method as a backup if specific drugs were not available. Now, that new protocol is also being scrutinized because it calls for the same drugs that caused the botched execution of Dennis McGuire in Ohio. Corrections officials say they don't know if any lethal injection drugs would be available, because the Department of Corrections is currently, "prohibited from taking any steps regarding execution -- and this would include the purchase of the drugs, so we don't know if they are available because we haven't tried to purchase." David Barron, an attorney representing five inmates on death row, called the Ohio execution, "an utter disaster," and said that Kentucky's plan to use a smaller dose is, "not enough to prevent the condemned person from feeling pain." Earlier this year, Republican state Representative David Floyd proposed a bill to repeal the death penalty in Kentucky, saying "The government needs to be infallible when it comes to killing people and it's not," adding, "The alternative of life in prison is much more cost effective."

Supreme Court: Kentucky Death Sentence May Be Flawed, But Not 'Unreasonable'

On April 23 the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death sentence of Kentucky inmate Robert Woodall, reversing an earlier ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. At Woodall's trial, his attorney asked the judge to instruct the jury not to draw any negative inference from the fact that Woodall had not testified in the sentencing phase. The judge refused to give the instruction. The 6th Circuit held that the failure to instruct the jury was a violation of Woodall's right to remain silent. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the Court in White v. Woodall, did not say the Kentucky judge acted properly, but only that federal courts must give exceptional deference to state courts, only overturning them when they act "unreasonably." In a dissent joined by two other Justices, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that "The 'normal rule' is that Fifth Amendment protections (about the right to remain silent) apply during trial and sentencing."

NEW VOICES: The Conservative Case for Death Penalty Repeal in Kentucky

David Floyd, a Republican state representative in Kentucky, recently introduced a bill to repeal the state's death penalty, arguing that the law was incompatible with conservative values. Writing in the Louisville Courier-Journal, Floyd said his religious views initially caused him to oppose the death penalty, but he made a broader pragmatic case for repeal from a conservative perspective. He pointed to values such as respect for life, limiting government power, and cutting wasteful spending, as reasons to support abolition. He said, "Capital punishment in Kentucky is a broken government program that risks killing the wrongly convicted, risks abuse of power, wastes resources, is arbitrary and unjust." He concluded, "Conservatives must work with people across the political spectrum to expose the many deficiencies of Kentucky’s system of capital punishment. And then we must repeal it." Read the op-ed below.

Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Kentucky Case on Death Penalty Jury Instructions

On June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in White v. Woodall, a death penalty case from Kentucky, to be heard during the Court's next term. Robert Woodall pleaded guilty to capital murder and chose not to testify in the sentencing phase of his trial. His attorneys requested that the judge instruct the jury not to draw any adverse inferences from Woodall's decision not to testify on his own behalf, but the request was denied because the judge concluded that Woodall's guilty plea waived his right to be free from self-incrimination. Woodall was sentenced to death. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ordered a resentencing, holding, "The due process clause requires that a trial court, if requested by the defendant, instruct the jury during the penalty phase of a capital trial that no adverse inference may be drawn from a defendant's decision not to testify." Kentucky has challenged that decision and the Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the matter.

Many States to Consider Death Penalty Abolition and Reform in 2013

As legislative sessions begin across the country, legislators in several states have proposed bills to abolish or reform the death penalty in 2013. In Alabama, Sen. Hank Sanders will introduce bills to abolish the death penalty, or alternatively to institute a series of reforms. “I believe the death penalty is not only unproductive but counter-productive,” he said. Texas will also consider a number of death penalty reform bills, including restrictions on certain types of evidence, and the creation of an innocence commission. Colorado Sen. Claire Levy is drafting a bill to abolish the death penalty. "We have increasing concerns about the possibility of executing an innocent person," said Levy. Kentucky Rep. Carl Rollins plans to propose a bill to replace the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole. In Maryland, Gov. Martin O'Malley has voiced support for a bill to end the death penalty and direct some of the money saved to murder victims' families. New Hampshire's Gov. Margaret Hassan also supports abolition, and a bill is likely to be introduced in that state. In Oregon, where Gov. John Kitzhaber instituted a moratorium on executions for the remainder of his term, Rep. Mitch Greenlick plans to introduce a bill beginning the process of abolishing the death penalty.

NEW VOICES: Kentucky Human Rights Commission Recommends Death Penalty Abolition

On October 17, the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, a state agency that enforces civil rights, unanimously passed a resolution in favor of ending the death penalty. The Commission urged the Kentucky General Assembly to repeal the death penalty and Governor Steven Beshear to sign any such legislation that is brought before him. The resolution underscored the unfairness of capital punishment: “[S]tatistics confirm that the imposition of the death penalty is disproportionately imposed on minorities and the poor." Moreover, the resolution pointed to the high error rate in Kentucky capital cases: "Since 1976, when Kentucky reinstated the death penalty, 50 of the 78 people sentenced to death have had their death sentence or conviction overturned, due to misconduct or serious errors that occurred during their trial. This represents an unacceptable error rate of more than 60 percent.” The resolution will be given to each legislator and to the governor.

NEW VOICES: Kentucky Prosecutors Call for Death Penalty Reform

An Op-Ed signed by eleven current and former Kentucky prosecutors calls for reforms to Kentucky's death penalty, in light of the recent report issued by the American Bar Association. The ABA report was released in December after a two-year study of fairness and accuracy in capital cases in Kentucky. The prosecutors cite Kentucky's "unacceptable" 60% error rate in death sentencing, saying "As a matter of basic fairness, we must pause to understand and reform the way capital punishment is administered in our state." They recommend a suspension of executions until reforms are implemented, in order to ensure a fair process. Among their suggestions for reform are a proposal currently being considered by the state legislature that would exempt severly mentally ill defendants from the death penalty. Other recommendations include preservation and testing of biological evidence, increased funding for indigent defense, and revision of jury instructions. They conclude, "The hallmark of our criminal justice system is that its process is fair and its results are reliable and accurate. Our reversal rate undermines this hallmark. These troubling issues in capital cases must be addressed now."

Read full op-ed below.

NEW VOICES: Former Kentucky Supreme Court Justices Call for Halt to Executions

Two former Supreme Court Justices in Kentucky and the President of the American Bar Association called for a suspension of executions in the state until its death penalty system is reformed.  Writing in the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Justices stated, "The list of problematic cases is staggering, and review of the system is deeply troubling. Fairness, impartiality and effectiveness of counsel have been undermined by serious flaws that reveal systemic problems in administration of the death penalty in the commonwealth." Citing findings from a recent study conducted by the ABA, former Justices James Keller (pictured) and Martin Johnstone, along with William Robinson, President of the ABA, noted that since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated, 50 of the 78 people who have been sentenced to death have had their sentence or conviction overturned due to misconduct or serious errors that occurred during their trial. The writers said, “In Kentucky, we cannot be certain that our death penalty system is fair and accurate. Our Death Penalty Assessment Team of lawyers, judges, bar leaders and legal experts conducted an exhaustive, two-year review of the death penalty system and identified a host of problems at various stages of the capital process, many of which increase the risk of executing the innocent. The problems affect not only those possibly facing execution, but also victims of crime.” Read full op-ed below.

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