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No Death Sentence For Killer of Mother and Unborn Son

Charles Copass sentenced to life without parole for the murder of Chelsey Mahaney

When the judge sentenced Charles Copass to life without the possibility of parole for the murder of Chelsey Mahaney the list of those eligible for the death penalty but not receiving it grew longer. Since 2010 only one person facing a death sentence has received it and it can’t be because the killings were not gruesome.

Less than a year ago KCADP published the following on this site:

If the sentence is to be used only in the “worst of the worst” cases as proponents claim, where is the internal consistency when a double child killer and rapist like Robert Drown, Jr. gets to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of life in prison. Or when the triple-murderer, Lloyd Hammond, is sentenced by a jury to life without parole. In another case, that of Clayton Jackson who killed three children, the prosecutor says justice was served when the jury sentenced him to life without parole. In a Jefferson County case which the judge described as the “worst criminal case” he had seen in 18 years on the bench, the prosecution did not seek the death penalty for a man who killed all four of his children. He was sentenced to life. In June 2013, William Blancet, Sr. – a triple-murderer – pled guilty in exchange for a sentence of life without parole. This is unusual, not because of the facts of the crime, but because it happened in Fayette County where the Commonwealth Attorney has stated over and over again that he always takes death eligible cases to the jury.

In the case of Charles Copass, the local prosecutor filed notice to seek the death penalty, but then yielded to the family members of the victims who wanted otherwise according to a story published by the Park City Daily News:

Although Willis filed paperwork earlier in the case signaling his intent to seek the death penalty, he noted Tuesday that Mahaney’s surviving relatives’ preference for life without parole for Copass was a reasonable request.

“Their concerns are they need closure,” Willis said. “They will never get over this, but they’ve got to have a start.”

After the sentencing, Diane Mahaney, Chelsey Mahaney’s grandmother spoke to a reporter:

“I got just what I wanted,” said Diane Mahaney, the grandmother of slain 22-year-old Chelsey Mahaney. Chelsey was four months pregnant at the time of her brutal June 11, 2012, murder. “I just don’t want another family to go through what we went through.”

The arbitrariness of Kentucky’s death sentencing process shines through in this case. Had Charles Copass killed someone in another county he could just as easily be on death row now. Had he killed someone whose family members did not see the benefit of life without parole and who pushed the prosecutor to seek death he could easily be on death row. A system riddled with this kind of uncertainty, arbitrariness and just plain old unfairness needs to end.

And it will. Lawmakers are more and more skeptical that this expensive system is accomplishing any just purpose. Our hope is that Kentuckians who have concluded the same are engaging in conversations with their State Senators and State Representatives.


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KCADP Signing Up Supporters at Kentucky State Fair

Young supports sign up to help us by working together to end the death penalty.

Young supporters sign up to help us by working together to end the death penalty in Kentucky.

It’s Kentucky State Fair time again and KCADP will be there to meet and invite other Kentuckians to work together to end the death penalty in our state. The Fair follows the successful August 1 meeting of the Ky. General Assembly’s Judiciary committee where faith leaders and victim family members spoke eloquently in support of repealing this law.

KCADP staff is grateful for all the help being given to this State Fair effort by the organizational members listed below. Members of these groups will be in the booth on the dates listed. Readers who belong to one of these groups and want to help can click on the name and sign up to help. If your group’s slots are all filled, you are certainly welcome to sign up and help on another day.

Volunteers who work a shift in the booth receive a pass allowing them free parking and free entry to the State Fair. We need outgoing, friendly folks who do not engage in arguing with those who disagree with us. It is fine to disagree. We are looking to educate Kentuckians who have not given much thought to the death penalty. When provided information many of them will support repeal.

If you use social media like Facebook, Twitter, and others, it helps to use this hashtag – #KYRepeal – if you are talking about ending the #deathpenalty in Kentucky.

Photo: courtesy of Pat Delahanty, Riverbirch Productions

See you at the Fair.

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Hearing Garners Press Attention


Update #2

The Record has published an editorial in response to its story last week about the hearing in Paducah on August 1, “Death penalty support is dying.” It concludes:

The Catholic Church, as everyone knows, has led opposition to the death penalty for generations. And now, like everyone else, church leaders can see and hear the attitudes toward capital punishment changing. The Paducah hearing testimony illustrates it; all of the polls show it.

It quantifies what is otherwise an immeasurable feeling in the air that, in the words of the late Sam Cooke, “It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come.”

On Aug 12, public radio’s Jonathan Meador filed this story – “Kentucky’s Death Penalty: A Comprehensive Look.” It includes extensive coverage of the August 1 hearing. Meador concludes the article by quoting one of the victim family members who came all the way from Louisville to Paducah to support abolition of the death penalty. Ruth Lowe, whose brother was murdered, said:

“It’s like taking the role of God on yourself, and I believe that God’s love, if you’re open to it, can change, can change your heart, can change your mind,” Lowe said.

“And God’s love is not about vengeance.”

Lowe has visited with several legislators this past year to encourage them to consider repealing the death penalty.

green-update-button-hiThe Record, the newspaper for the Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville publishes on Thursdays and has an excellent online story containing links to other stories and videos that resulted from the hearing.


The  meeting of the Ky. General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee in Paducah captured the attention of the press on the day before the Fancy Farm picnic and political speechifying. A filled hearing room heard legislators, faith leaders, victim family members, lawyers representing indigent, capital defendants, and the dean of the Eastern Kentucky University School of Justice Administration call for repeal of the death penalty. On that same day a Lexington Herald-Leader editorial said, “Kentucky either needs to fix the problems with the death penalty or abolish it.”

(The meeting was live-tweeted by KCADP staffer Shekinah Lavalle, as well as our partners at ACLU-KY and the Catholic Conference. Search for #KYrepeal to see what they sent out. And if you tweet or post on FB or other social media about us, please use hashtag, #KYrepeal.)

Neal and Floyd

Sen. Neal & Rep. Floyd

Two lawmakers, State Senator Gerald Neal – D and State Representative David Floyd – R, both explained that each had moved from supporting the death penalty to calling for an end to its use. Each described how reflection on its implementation led to acknowledging that the time has come to abandon it. Its application is arbitrary, and it wastes resources the state could use to meet other more pressing needs. Both recalled how their thoughts about redemption also colored their conclusions about its use.

The Lexington Herald-Leader headline over the Associated Press report got it right: Execution debate finds new footing in Kentucky after botched attempts elsewhere.

And the Courier-Journal version of the AP story included this comment by Sen. Robin Webb, a supporter of the death penalty, who wants to see some changes: “Get it right, that’s what we have to do. And, we haven’t done that,” state Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, said. “My faith requires that we do the best we can if we’re going to have the death penalty. You’ve got to heal to forgive.”

The cn|2 Pure Politics story, “Potential changes to death penalty in Kentucky gaining traction among lawmakers,” included this statement:

Even some of those lawmakers who say they see a role for capital punishment acknowledged that the system must change at least to add more safeguards against innocent people landing on death row, which prompted other states like Illinois to ban the death penalty.

Dean Allen Ault gave some dramatic testimony and opened his remarks by announcing, “I have murdered five people as an agent of the state.” He went on to call capital punishment “the most premeditated murder possible.”

One of the most complete reports of the day is found in the Paducah Sun’s account of the hearing and in a separate story focusing on victim family members and their opinions and insights regarding the use of the death penalty.

KCADP Board Secretary and a member of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation, Ben Griffith spoke to committee members about his brother’s murder and the execution of the killer.

Dr. Marian Taylor and  Jason Hall offered their insights from a faith perspective. Marian is the Exec. Dir. of the Ky. Council of Churches and Jason is Exec. Dir. of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky. Both organizations are members of KCADP.

Ed and Ernie

Ed Monahan & Ernie Lewis

Kentucky’s public advocate, Ed Monahan, noted the wasteful use of resources and said it is time to fix or abandon the death penalty. Ernie Lewis, speaking on behalf of the Ky. Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, educated committee members about the withdrawal of support of the American Law Institute for its own model statute upon which Kentucky’s death penalty law is based.


Photos: courtesy of Pat Delahanty, Riverbirch Productions

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Larry Osborne Acquitted August 1, 2002

Paducah – KCADP is in Paducah preparing to provide testimony on August 1 to a panel of lawmakers who sit on the Senate and House Judiciary committees.

The purpose of the meeting is not to discuss how to fix the death penalty, which the 2011 ABA Kentucky Assessment Team report  said was so broken there should be a moratorium until the system could be “repaired.” This time lawmakers will focus on whether or not Kentucky should keep this arbitrary, broken process in place or repeal it, making life without parole the severest punishment for capital murder.

Click on Graphic for more information about innocence

Ironically, the answer to that question is right before their eyes, because 12 years ago on this day, a jury acquitted Larry Osborne, a man who was a juvenile at the time he was sentenced to death by another jury when a judge allowed a prosecutor to read hearsay testimony to them during his first trial.

Some would say the system worked. Be honest. If you were Larry Osborne and you spent several years on death row for a murder you did not commit, would you really believe the system worked? Speaking of the system, Osborne was the 102nd wrongfully convicted defendant released. Since then the number has grown to 144 wrongfully convicted men and one woman released from death row. This is not a system that works.

Nor is Larry Osborne the only wrongfully convicted Kentuckian who served time in prison. So far there are 13 others, none of whom received a death sentence, but all of whom lost their freedom unjustly. The system is not perfect, because human beings are not perfect.

These defendants ended up in prison for various reasons: eyewitness mis-identification, coerced testimony from a witness, false expert testimony, government misconduct, and ineffective assistance from a defense attorney, to name a few. You can see the full list of those exonerated and the reasons why by clicking here.

If you want more information about the case of Larry Osborne click here or here or here.

This information alone should convince reasonable people that government, who some think can’t even fix a pothole, should certainly not be in the expensive business of asking its citizens to try and figure out who lives and dies. Getting that right demands a decision from someone who doesn’t make mistakes. None of us can claim that distinction.

Please share your opinions about repeal with state lawmakers: 1.800.372.7181. Also spread the word on social media using the hashtag: #KYrepeal.

Artwork: Death Penalty Information Center

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Officer Tulio Tourinho Objects to Executions

KCADP thanks Officer Tourinho for submitting this statement expressing his opposition to the use of the death penalty. We invite others to submit statements. We reserve the right to edit all submissions.

Disclosure: I have done mission work overseas. I have been a high school teacher. I am a veteran of both Afghanistan and Iraq. I hold a M.Div. and am currently a Police Officer with the Louisville Metro Police Department.

Tulio Tourinho-My objections to the death penalty are simple and they are all moral objections.

As a Christian, I fail to understand how a nation that prides itself on being a bastion for human rights and justice, and even claims to be a Christian nation by many, is enamored by violence and death. How do we reconcile and mitigate the duality of saying through our laws that killing is wrong, yet use that same law to kill in the name of justice? Besides, in all honesty, I find that some crimes are so heinous that the “humane” executions are such an easy way to an end. A lifetime imprisoned is much more just than the alternative if the severity of the crime dictates permanent removal from society.

What should be our response when numerous erroneously convicted persons are finally released from prison after exculpatory evidence, such as DNA evidence, comes to light? Should we breathe a sigh of relief that we, as a “just” society, did not execute the prisoner in error? I cannot fathom the notion of being at peace with executing a prisoner erroneously. Any justification is immoral and the loss of even one single, innocent life ought to be unacceptable in a truly just and humane society.

How about the economic cost? It is no secret that death row has cost this country an unfathomable amount of money. For what? Retribution? Revenge? Those notions are immoral! For a sense of closure and peace, perhaps? But, anyone claiming to find peace through the death of another does not understand peace. During these uncertain economic times, this exorbitant expense is immoral.

At the risk of preaching, in John 8, the Bible tells a story of Jesus impeding the stoning and death of a woman. The story is powerful because Jesus knew two things:

  • she was not the only guilty party, although the Pharisees seemed to ignore the male participant in the adulterous affair; and
  • that death was final for the woman, thus offering her no opportunity for repenting.

Jesus was mostly concerned with the part of her which is eternal: her soul. The death penalty is also final, and flies in the face of Biblical principle by removing from God’s hands the final say about one’s life and placing it in the hands of us fallible human Pharisees.

There is something I find troubling as well about the death penalty and upon whom it is imposed. It seems that a homicide must occur in order for the death penalty to be exacted. But I ask, are other crimes, especially financial ones that involve people’s entire life savings, for example, not damaging beyond repair? Yet, somehow, the system finds that these types of non-violent crimes, although they completely ruin people’s lives, are not deserving of the death penalty.

Although many may consider it an unfair comparison, I assure you that, as a Police Officer, I have seen first hand how un-repair-able and devastating some non-violent crimes can be to families and citizens, and how they live out their existence just as damaged as someone who has lost a loved one due to a violent crime. Neither victim will have the peace they desire by executing the criminal. As a matter of fact, because of the extraordinarily lengthy process of necessary appeals, that lingering is often more damaging than helpful.

I have always been a lover of justice, almost as if it was “breathed” into me by Heaven. But it wasn’t until I became a Police Officer that I fully understood justice. Today, as I exercise my duty and diligence, I realize that justice is not only the arresting or prosecuting, but mostly the compassion, the admonishment, even the freeing of the undeserving through the powerful showing of grace.

Although some need to be taken to jail as a wake-up call, no one ought to lose their life as a society-at-large retribution.

As a Police Officer, I see all human life as a sacred gift, because protecting life is my greatest responsibility. I only wish others would view the sacredness of life as I do, as God does, as a truly just society would, when they refuse to succumb to the evil of taking a person’s life, no matter how “deserving” we might believe they are. In the end, and especially as a Christian, we all deserve it.

Photo: courtesy of Officer Tourinho; and, a modern-day re-enactment of the story of the woman caught in adultery in York, England

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