capital punishment

The Death Penalty In Kentucky: Stayed And Uncertain

Aug 12, 2016

The mention of “death row” conjures images of inmates pacing in their cells, awaiting executions. But in Kentucky, defendants have little reason to fear the needle.

Most, if not all, of the state’s death row residents will never see the execution chamber.

Lengthy appeals and a shortage of lethal injection drugs mean Kentucky’s death row inmates remain in prison indefinitely. And even if inmates want to be executed, the state’s court system would not allow it.

While this delicate death deliberation plays out, millions of public dollars are spent each year to sentence defendants to death, though legislators, criminal justice experts and others know such a sentence is mostly futile.

This process plays out as the United States continues to grapple with capital punishment amid a sea change of sorts. Executions across the country reached a 24-year low in 2015. Legislators in several states, including Kentucky, are considering bills to repeal the practice. Polls show public support of the death penalty is waning, wrongful convictions are in the national conversation and lethal injection drugs are under heavy scrutiny.

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After decades of defending capital punishment, some conservative Republicans are walking away from the death penalty.

In Kentucky, lawmakers such as Rep. David Floyd, a Nelson County Republican, now oppose executions on grounds of fiscal responsibility and pro-life values.

For Floyd and others, the decision pits two traditional Republican planks against each other: a tough-on-crime, law-and-order platform versus a conservative fiscal approach.

In red states both big and small, bills to abolish the death penalty are becoming more common.

“There’s been a complete change of discussion nationally,” said Marc Hyden, the national advocacy coordinator for Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. “These are some very strong feelings of fiscal responsibility and pro-life views.”

Floyd’s bill to abolish the state’s death penalty has never made it past committee, but there are signs that more Republican support could help turn the tide in their favor.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed today to review Oklahoma's method of execution by lethal injection. The justices agreed to hear the Oklahoma case a week after refusing to halt another execution that used the same drug formula.

Kentucky Latest State to Renew Debate Over Death Penalty

Aug 13, 2014
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Allen Ault admits to being a murderer.

But Ault isn’t behind bars, nor was he tried for his “crimes." He’s currently dean of Criminal Justice Studies at Eastern Kentucky University. But as Ault told an interim joint committee on the judiciary earlier this month, he considers his actions as a director of corrections akin to premeditated murder.

“I have murdered five people as an agent of the state,” he said.

Ault said that many of his former colleagues have committed suicide or retreated into drugs to cope with their actions

“Corrections officials are expected to commit the most premeditated murder possible,” he said. “I mean, I had a policy book that thick. We rehearsed it. How premeditated could it be?”

Debate Over Kentucky Executions Begins Again

Aug 1, 2014

Kentucky lawmakers are set to embark on a discussion of whether executions should have a place in Kentucky's criminal justice system and, if so, how should it be carried out. The Joint Legislative Committee hearing set for Friday morning in Paducah comes amid the backdrop of a spate of botched executions around the country this year.

Kentucky is a long way from becoming the rare southern state without capital punishment. Friday's meeting can't set policies or make official recommendations. Efforts to repeal the death penalty haven't gotten off the ground in recent attempts in the general assembly.

The public hearing, however, is the first of its kind since Kentucky reinstated the death penalty in 1975, a four decade stretch during which the state has executed three men, with 34 more people on death row.

Tennessee's governor has signed a bill that would allow the state to use the electric chair if lethal injection drugs are unavailable.

A spokesman for Republican Gov. Bill Haslam confirmed to The Associated Press that the legislation had been signed after passing the state Senate by a 23-3 vote and the House by a 68-13 margin.

The AP reports:

Kentucky may find out Monday if the state can resume carrying out death sentences.  A hearing will be held in Frankfort on the state’s request to lift an order barring executions. 

Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd halted all executions in 2010 after finding issues with Kentucky’s three-drug method for lethal injections. Attorney for death row inmates argued the three drugs caused an unnecessary risk of pain.

Earlier this year, the state switched to one or two drugs, depending upon the availability of the drugs. 

Governor Beshear has requests to set execution dates for condemned inmates Robert Foley and Ralph Baze, but the governor has given no indication if or when he will act on those requests should the injunction be lifted.

Kentucky has executed three inmates since the death penalty was re-instated in 1976.  The last was in 2008.

Two-thirds of Kentuckians support the death penalty as an option for murderers and oppose replacing it with a sentence of life in prison without parole. The Courier-Journal Bluegrass poll of 609 registered Kentucky voters shows 67 percent support capital punishment, while 26 percent oppose it.

Nationally, several states have been rethinking the death penalty in light of cases where individuals on death row were later exonerated. Two bills have been filed in this year’s General Assembly that would abolish the death penalty. In previous legislative sessions, efforts to end the state’s capital punishment system have received little support.

The latest survey doesn’t show much change from a 1997 Bluegrass Poll that showed 70 percent of Kentuckians backing the death penalty.

At least three death row inmates could be nearing execution as Kentucky moves toward a new lethal injection method, with the governor's office already having requests to set dates for two, and a third man out of direct appeals in his case.

Kentucky is implementing lethal injection by one or two drugs, depending on the availability of the narcotics, after a judge ordered the state to abandon or be prepared to defend using the old three-drug mixture. The change takes legal effect Feb. 1.

A spokeswoman for Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear says until an injunction suspending all executions is lifted, the governor can't move on carrying out a death sentence.

The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights has called on the state to end the use of the death penalty, saying it is often applied unfairly against minorities and the poor. The commissioners, who enforce state and federal civil rights laws, urged Kentucky lawmakers in a resolution last week to repeal the law that allows the use of the death penalty in some murder cases.

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to take up the case of a Kentucky death row inmate awaiting execution for the slaying of three people in Adair County in 1993. The high court on Monday issued its decision without comment on the appeal brought by 39-year-old William Harry Meece.

The Tennessee Supreme Court has decided not to hear an appeal by two death row inmates who claim that changes to the state's lethal injection procedure are unconstitutional.