Judge Jay Wethington
“We need to get rid of the death penalty,” said Davies Circuit Judge Jay Wethington in a story printed in Hopkinsville’s Kentucky New Era. His statement comes at a time when support and use of the death penalty is falling: prosecutors are seeking death less often, juries are not imposing the death sentence in trials calling for it and lethal injection challenges have practically brought a halt to executions. In fact, criminal justice reform on a larger scale is attracting the attention of Kentucky policy makers.
Governor Matt Bevin has appointed a 23-member committee – The Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council – to study Kentucky’s penal code and make recommendations about changes in it that the General Assembly could put into law in 2017.
According to the article Bevin said,
The purpose of this council is to address the fact that we know incarcerations have been on the rise, drug use and drug overdoses have been on the rise, recidivism has been on the rise. We’ve had so many issues that we know about … but what is it we are actually doing to minimize these increasing numbers?
As a former Commonwealth attorney Wethington prosecuted death penalty cases, so he is no soft-on-crime advocate, but a smart-on-crime realist. The article quotes him saying,
We spend too much money for the results. Some (death penalty) cases can be quite costly for the results.
Wethington sees an added benefit to the nation. He pointed out that after it abolishes the death penalty the U. S. will be eligible to participate in the International Criminal Court and noted,
We’re the only First World country with the death penalty.
Here’s the list of names of those who serve on the CJPAC. If you know a member of the committee, please contact him or her and urge that their deliberations include consideration of abolishing the death penalty in Kentucky.
- Chairman John Tilley, Secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet
- Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee
- Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee
- Derrick Ramsey, Secretary of the Labor Cabinet
- Sen. John Schickel, R-Union
- Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville
- Rep. Denny Butler, R-Louisville
- Rep. Chris Harris, D-Forest Hills
- Dr. Allen Brenzel, Department of Behavioral Health, Cabinet for Health and Family Services
- Judge David A. Tapp, 28th Judicial Circuit Court, Division 1
- Judge-Executive Tommy Turner, LaRue County
- Amy Milliken, Warren County Attorney
- Courtney Baxter, Commonwealth’s Attorney for Oldham, Henry, Trimble counties
- Rick Sanders, Kentucky State Police Commissioner
- Damon Preston, Deputy Public Advocate, Department of Public Advocacy
- Russell Coleman, Spokesman for Kentucky Smart on Crime
- Tom Jensen, Attorney, retired Judge and former Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee
- Anthony Smith, Executive Director of Cities United
- Jason Woosley, Grayson County Jailer
- Bob Russell, Retired Senior Minister of Southeast Christian Church
- Bishop William Medley, Diocese of Owensboro
- Dave Adkisson, President and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce
- Justice Daniel J. Venters, Supreme Court of Kentucky, 3rd District
– July 26, 2016
Over the past three years many of you reading this and hundreds of others in Kentucky have had the opportunity to work with Shekinah LaValle, Outreach Coordinator for the Coalition. She is moving on to new challenges and, as she does, KCADP thanks her for the past three years given to our work.
No one ever gets credit for all he or she does, because often that which leads to a dramatic success is the result of a whole lot of boring, grunge work that led to that success. Shekinah has organized volunteers for tabling events like the State Fair, scheduled many meetings with legislators and their constituents, as well as victim family members and wrongfully convicted Kentuckians. These meetings have led to a change of heart and mind on the part of several legislators. Shekinah has pushed the ball downfield as we are about to score the winning touchdown and abolish the death penalty in Kentucky. She will continue to volunteer for KCADP as she pursues her next life adventure.
Thank you Shekinah, we wish you the brightest future with great success in pursuing your goals and advocating for those whose voices are often not heard.
– July 7, 2016
The Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) announced there is a new study by Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project which reports that a handful of prosecutors are responsible for 15% of the death sentences imposed on defendants nationwide. The report also reveals that 20% of the more than 150 innocent defendants released because of wrongful convictions were prosecuted by these same overzealous individuals. According to DPIC:
The report says that the “over-aggressive and reckless” fervor with which the featured prosecutors pursue death sentences is “evidence that the application of the death penalty is—and always has been—less about the circumstances of the offense or the characteristics of the person who committed the crime, and more a function of the personality and predilections of the local prosecutors entrusted with the power to seek the ultimate punishment.” It concludes, “[t]his overzealous, personality-driven, win-at-all-costs pursuit of capital punishment seriously undermines the legitimacy of the death penalty today.”
Problems with the prosecution of death penalty cases in Kentucky were clearly outlined on pages xix – xxi of the summary of the American Bar Association Kentucky Assessment Report. This two-year study by some of Kentucky’s most distinguished legal scholars, practitioners and judges highlighted problems similar to what the Fair Punishment Project is now reporting. In its summary readers can find this on page xxi:
There is also geographic disparity with respect to capital charging practices and conviction rates in Kentucky. Since 2003, fifty-three percent of Fayette County murder cases have gone to trial compared to twenty-five percent in Jefferson County.
The Harvard report speaks a great deal about prosecutorial misconduct. Here is what Kentucky legal scholars reported after their two-year study of how Kentucky’s system works. Again, from page xxi:
Finally, the high percentage of reversals and citations of prosecutorial misconduct or error in death penalty cases acutely demonstrates the need for appropriate discipline to deter and prevent reoccurrence of such conduct, particularly when a life is at stake. Of the seventy-eight persons sentenced to death in the Commonwealth since the reinstatement of the death penalty, at least fifty defendants’ death sentences have been overturned by Kentucky state or federal courts. Of these fifty reversals, fifteen have been based, in whole or in part, on prosecutorial misconduct or error.
The newly appointed Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council, if it is seriously interested in preserving the integrity and credibility of Kentucky’s justice system, needs to review the ABA’s Kentucky Assessment Report on the use of the death penalty and consider recommending its abolition.
Graphic: Courtesy of Death Penalty Information Center
– July 4, 2016
Governor Matt Bevin recently announced the formation of a Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council and KCADP finds this exciting. Writing in the Courier-Journal, he said:
This 23-member panel of dedicated people from across the Commonwealth will review existing research and data-driven evidence to build a smarter, stronger and better system of justice.
KCADP hopes this body is wise enough to listen to the facts about Kentucky’s broken death penalty system. At the end of 2011 a distinguished group of Kentucky legal experts issued a document reporting on their findings after studying Kentucky’s death sentencing system over the previous two years. Called EVALUATING FAIRNESS AND ACCURACY IN STATE DEATH PENALTY SYSTEMS: The Kentucky Death Penalty Assessment Report An Analysis of Kentucky’s Death Penalty Laws, Procedures, and Practices, the report made 92 recommendations that needed to be undertaken by the executive, judicial and legislative branches of Kentucky’s government in order to protect innocent defendants and insure the fair imposition of the death penalty. To date, no significant attention has been paid to these recommendations by the three branches of government.
The new Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council should include an examination of the use of the death penalty in Kentucky if it wants a system of justice whose credibility is not undermined by all those problems identified by the Kentucky Death Penalty Assessment Report. Growing bi-partisan support for abolishing the death penalty is already a fact here. Kentuckians deserve a justice system that is not wasting limited tax dollars on a broken system that is no longer needed and, in addition, risks executing the innocent. To suggest that could never happen here is to forget that it has already happened here in the case of Larry Osborne.
Photo: courtesy Kentucky Governor website
– July 2, 2016
Vatican Radio has reported that Pope Francis sent a video message to attendees of the 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty. In a transcript provided by Vatican Radio, the Pope said:
Indeed, nowadays the death penalty is unacceptable, however grave the crime of the convicted person. It is an offence to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person; it likewise contradicts God’s plan for individuals and society, and his merciful justice.
As he ended his comments the Pope described punishment without hope as “torture”:
There is no fitting punishment without hope! Punishment for its own sake, without room for hope, is a form of torture, not of punishment. Here is the video the Pope sent. To read the full text, click here.
If any readers are speaking with Catholic legislators who resist supporting abolition, ask if they have been paying attention to this and other recent statements by the Pope about the church’s clear teaching on this issue.
The Pope noted that public opinion is shifting regarding the use of the death penalty. KCADP is confident that is the case in Kentucky and is continuing to build capacity all over the state, focusing on finding even more persons who have worked in law enforcement to support abolition.
The 2016 Kentucky State Fair is in August and again KCADP will sponsor a booth offering materials and conversation for those wanting more information about how we plan to end the death penalty in our state. Should you wish to volunteer, please email the KCADP chairperson of the board.
– June 26, 2016