Kentucky

Kentucky

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.

STUDIES: American Bar Association Releases Assessement of Kentucky's Death Penalty

On December 7, the American Bar Association released a report assessing Kentucky's system of captial punishment and calling for a halt to executions in the state.  The report was prepared by the Kentucky Assessment Team on the Death Penalty, which included law professors, former state supreme court justices, and practicing attorneys.  The two-year study recommended that the state temporarily suspend executions until serious issues of fairness and accuracy are addressed.  The review reported that courts have found an error rate of more than 60 percent in the trials of those who had been sentenced to death.  The review also found that at least 10 of the 78 defendants sentenced to death were represented by attorneys who were subsequently disbarred. Among the problems identified by the Assessment Team were the absence of statewide standards governing the qualifications and training for attorneys in capital cases, and uniform standards on eyewitness identifications and interrogations.  Many of Kentucky's largest law enforcement agencies do not fully adhere to best practices to guard against false eyewitness identifications and false confessions, two of the leading causes of wrongful convictions nationwide.  Linda Ewald, a law professor at the University of Louisville who co-chaired the assessment team, said, “We came in to this with no real idea of what we would find.  But at the close of our two-year deliberations, we were left with no option but to recommend that the Commonwealth halt executions until the problems we identified are remedied. This report is really about the administration of justice in Kentucky.”

DPIC RESOURCES: New State Pages Now Available

DPIC is pleased to announce the completion of our State Information Pages for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.  These state profiles provide historical and current information on the death penalty for each state, including famous cases, past legislative actions, and links to key organizations and state officials.  For frequently updated information, such as execution totals, the size of death row, or the number of exonerations, see our State-by-State Database.  Readers are encouraged to send additional information, pictures, and links to organizations in their state.  You can reach the State Information Pages through the "State by State" button at the top of every page on our website or under the "Resources" tab in our main menu.

NEW VOICES: Four Who Experienced a Family Murder Speak About the Death Penalty

Kathryn Gaines, Rita Shoulders, Ruth Lowe and Victoria Cox all had someone in their family murdered but all believe that a death sentence for the killers would only deepen their personal wounds.  Shoulders lost her sister to murder; Cox lost her brother; Lowe also lost her brother; and Gaines experienced the death of her eldest grandchild a year ago.  All four women are members of St. Martin de Porres Church in West Louisville, Kentucky, and have participated in videos to relate their experienes.  Ruth Lowe said of the man who killed her brother, "I’m learning to forgive. And even if I had the chance I wouldn’t want him executed. It would do nothing for me; it would do nothing for the rest of my family. To take his life would make no sense.” Kathryn Gaines said, "You cannot bring a life back by taking away another life. It hurts a whole family."  The videos of the four women's stories can be found  here. The women's stories are also being told in a series of articles in The Record, a Catholic newspaper published in central Kentucky.

Update on Lethal Injection Issue

In a clear national trend, seven states (Alabama, Arizona, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and South Carolina) have used pentobarbital instead of sodium thiopental in their executions in 2011. The most recent such execution was that of Donald Beaty in Arizona on May 25, following a temporary stay as the state made a sudden switch to the new drug.  Ohio is the only one of the seven states to use pentobarbital as the sole drug in its lethal-injection process.  At least five states (Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and South Carolina) that acquired sodium thiopental through an overseas source have had the drug seized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.  In addition, Arizona was instructed by the DEA not to use its foreign sodium thiopental just prior to the May 25 execution. Arkansas and California also have supplies of sodium thiopental originally obtained from a supplier in Great Britain.  In Nebraska, questions about its supply of sodium thiopental--obtained from a company in India--has postponed the execution of Carey Dean Moore.  South Dakota's sodium thiopental was also reportedly obtained from India.  Other states like Georgia, Louisiana, and Virginia have indicated they intend to switch to pentobarbital in future executions.

LETHAL INJECTION: Latest Foreign Supplier of Drugs for U.S. Executions Refuses to Continue

When the sole U.S. supplier of a drug used by all death penalty states announced it was halting production earlier this year, many states turned to sources overseas.  In particular, Nebraska obtained a large quantity of the drug--sodium thiopental--from a company in Mumbai, India.  Now that company has announced it will no longer supply the drug for use in lethal injections.  In a statement released to the media, Kayem Pharmaceutical Pvt. Ltd. said, "In view of the sensitivity involved with sale of our thiopental sodium to various jails/prisons in USA and as alleged to be used for the purpose of lethal injection, we voluntary declare that we as Indian Pharma Dealer who cherish the Ethos of Hinduism (A believer even in non-livings as the creation of God) refrain ourselves in selling this drug where the purpose is purely for Lethal Injection and its misuse."  Earlier this year, the sole U.S. manufacturer of the same drug, Hospira Inc., similarly announced that it wanted no part in supplying drugs for executions. Nebraska death row inmate Carey Moore is challenging the legality of the state’s purchase of the drug.  According to a motion filed with the Nebraska Supreme Court, there is no evidence that Kayem Pharmaceutical is registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) or is authorized to deliver drugs to the U.S. There is also evidence that Nebraska received a generic form of the drug, contrary to the state's execution protocol.

REPRESENTATION: Kentucky Inmate Faces Execution Despite Sham Trial

Gregory Wilson is scheduled for execution in Kentucky on September 16, despite having been represented by woefully unqualified and unprepared attorneys in his death penalty trial.  It took over a year for the trial judge to find an attorney to take Wilson’s case. Wilson was indigent, and the maximum state fee for a capital-murder representation was $2,500. The judge even put a note on his courthouse door, saying: "PLEASE HELP. DESPERATE. THIS CASE CANNOT BE CONTINUED AGAIN."  Eventually, two lawyers agreed to take the case: John Foote, who had never tried a felony (much less a capital) case, and William Hagedorn, a semi-retired lawyer who gave as his office number the phone of the local bar, "Kelly's Keg."  Hagedon volunteered to be lead counsel for free, even though he had no office, no staff, no copy machine and no law books. According to witnesses, Wilson’s lawyers came and went during trial, and attorney Hagedorn was absent more than half the time. The lawyers failed to interview and subpoena witnesses, investigate evidence collected by police, or contact certain family members who would have testified on behalf of sparing Wilson’s life. Stephen Bright, president of the Southern Center for Human Rights, said that Wilson’s case is a "travesty of justice and among the worst examples he's ever seen of a defendant tried for his life with unqualified counsel."

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