A Kentucky judge has expressed concerns about the state's plan to use a single drug to carry out lethal injections after the same method resulted in problems in neighboring Ohio.
The issues raised Wednesday by Franklin County Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd could further delay Kentucky's ability to carry out death sentences and prolong the decade-long legal fight over how the state puts condemned inmates to death.
Shepherd told attorneys during a brief hearing in Frankfort that he may set a hearing about the state's proposal but didn't immediately set a date.
Ohio inmate Dennis McGuire repeatedly gasped and snorted and took 26 minutes to die during an execution in January.
Kentucky is seeking to implement both one- and two-drug lethal injection methods. Shepherd halted all executions in the state in 2010.
A national conservative group says the effort to get rid of the death penalty in Kentucky is picking up substantial bipartisan support. But legislation to repeal capital punishment failed to gain much traction in this year’s legislative session.
In the House, a bill to ban the death penalty was introduced by Republican David Floyd of Bardstown; in the Senate, Democrat Gerald Neal did the same. But neither piece of legislation received a hearing.
Marc Hyden with the group “Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty”, says while progress may be slow, he says within five years, the death penalty could be gone in Kentucky. He says it’s a rare issue on which Republicans and Democrats can work together.
Hayden rejects the notion that the death penalty is a deterrent.
The Kentucky Supreme Court is set to hear an appeal in the long-running case of an escaped inmate from an Oklahoma prison facing a death sentence in the fatal kidnapping of a Kentucky distillery worker. A federal appeals court, meanwhile, will hear the case of a Kentucky death row inmate convicted of killing two people in Louisville later this year.
The state justices will hear the case of Michael Dale St. Clair on March 13th in Frankfort. St. Clare is appealing the conviction and sentence out of Hardin County in the 1991 kidnapping of Francis "Frank" Brady of Bardstown. Prosecutors say St. Clare and an accomplice snatched Brady from a rest stop along I-65. Brady was later found shot to death in neighboring Bullitt County.
St. Clare has also been sentenced to death in Bullitt County on a charge of murder. The justices heard an appeal in that case in February.
Two Kentucky lawmakers have introduced bills that would eliminate the death penalty and replace it with life without parole.
Democratic Sen. Gerald Neal of Louisville and Republican Rep. David Floyd of Bardstown say the justice system is flawed and should not have the power to take a felon’s life.
Corrections data provided by the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty shows that 14 death penalty cases have been overturned since 1983.
Neal says he has also filed a resolution in the Senate that would create a task force to examine the cost of capital punishment to taxpayers. It's been estimated to cost an average $10 million each year.
“Whether you’re for it or against it, that’s one thing or the other," the Jefferson County Senator said. "But let’s understand the cost to the taxpayer because it impacts more. I guess the bottom line is, I think, as I talk individually with some members of the chamber, I think that argument is gaining some traction.”
Some commonwealth’s attorneys maintain that capital punishment acts as a deterrent on crime, a point that Neal and Floyd disagree with.
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.
Tennessee’s Department of Correction Commissioner says he’s pursuing the use of drugs that could be used to execute inmates on death row. The Volunteer State’s entire stock of a key lethal injection drug was confiscated by the federal government in 2011 over questions about whether the drugs were legally obtained.
Commissioner Derrick Schofield says his department is urgently working to secure drugs that could be used to execute inmates.
The Tennessean reports there are currently 84 people sitting on the state’s death row, with 67 of those inmates having been there for more than a decade. Since 2011, there’s been a national shortage of the drug thiopental, which was widely used by states during the lethal injection process.
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.