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Death sentencing down in nation and in Kentucky

In July 2011 over in Barren County, the Commonwealth planned to put Miguel Angel Velázquez on Kentucky’s death row, but then abandoned that idea and allowed him to plead guilty to a triple murder in exchange for a sentence of life without parole. A hint of why was found in a news report: “[Commonwealth Attorney Karen] Davis said the agreement had the effect of keeping the public safe and avoiding the expense of a trial.” (Emphasis added.)

Over the past several years, while Kentucky’s executive branch has dealt with its unlawful protocol and the lack of availability of drugs to poison inmates, prosecutors, judges and juries have continued to bring violent killers to justice. But concern about costs and a new awareness that victim family members are satisfied with sentences less than death has resulted in surprising court outcomes.

Rather than death sentences in at least 16 death eligible cases,  lengthy sentences ranging from 50 years to life without parole have been imposed on defendants who most would agree are among the “worst of the worst,” the type of killers we have been told deserve death.

Yet in the cases of Robert Drown (Carter County, 2010), Raymond Clutter (Boone County, 2010), Michael Abner (Pulaski County, 2010), Raymond Harris (Bell County, 2010), Robert Maple (Carter County, 2011), John Devine Sr. (Jefferson County, 2012), Dalton Stidham (Perry County, 2014), Charles Copass (Barren County, 2014), and Ellen Crawley (Jefferson County, 2014) victim survivors, prosecutors who were planning to seek death, and law enforcement expressed support for the sentences imposed on these defendants. You can read a summary of these cases and others by clicking here. For more details on each of these cases, a Google search on the name of the defendant will lead you to more information about each case.

Repeal legislation will soon be introduced in the General Assembly when it meets in 2015. There will also be bills trying to get a study to determine the cost of the death penalty to taxpayers in Kentucky. Lawmakers need to hear from their fellow Kentuckians. They are probably not aware of the cases described above. But constituents could download that document and deliver it to their state representatives and state senators. The death penalty in Kentucky is not being imposed by judges and juries on the worst of the worst. And when it is – once in the past 4 years – it has a cost associated with it that we don’t know.

Kentucky judges, juries, victim family members and prosecutors have demonstrated the death penalty is not necessary. It’s time for lawmakers to reach that conclusion and repeal the death penalty while keeping in place life without parole as a punishment that protects us from violent killers and satisfies the demands of justice.

Graphic: courtesy of Death Penalty Information Center (Click on graphic to see its annual report.)

 

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Wouldn’t a swift, certain punishment make more sense?

Murphy Error Rate Death PenaltyAs the U. S. is on track to have the fewest executions in years, Kentuckians should reflect on what has been trending in our own state.

Nov. 21 marked the sixth anniversary of the execution of Marco Chapman by Kentucky. Chapman forced the state’s hand by refusing to pursue his legal appeals.

More importantly, this date marks six years during which there have been no executions here. Because Kentucky failed to hold public hearings required by law with regard to the regulation about how the state carries out executions, a judge stopped the execution of Gregory Wilson that Gov. Beshear had ordered for late 2010. But, after the Commonwealth held required hearings and got the rubber-stamped approval of members of a committee of the General Assembly, lawyers representing death row inmates challenged the new protocol in court.

Intervening botched executions in other states have now caused Kentucky officials to tell the court that they are revising the protocol. This has led to further delay. Currently the state is trying to cobble together yet another “protocol” for killing inmates. It will be at least six months before Kentucky MAY be in a position to execute anyone.

Since March,* 2010, Kentucky courts have only handed down one new death sentence and the last execution of a prisoner– other than two who “volunteered” to be executed by giving up their appeals– occurred more than 17 years ago.

In the past four and a half years, Kentucky’s courts reversed the death sentences of five death row inmates. Subsequently, two men pleaded to a lesser sentence; the Court ruled out a possible death sentence in the case of another; one man received less than a death sentence on retrial; and the last was sentenced to death again at trial. Error rates soar in this state.

It’s clearly time for policymakers and the public to ask themselves if life without parole, which is far less expensive than the death penalty and avoids the risk of executing an innocent person, would not serve as a more just and cost-effective alternative to the death penalty. Unlike the death penalty, life without parole is a swift and certain punishment that means what it says.

*This should be October, 2010. Carlos Ordway’s death sentence was subsequently overturned and he is now serving a lesser sentence. His is one of the five reversed cases cited above.

KCADP thanks our supporter, Marc Murphy, for permission to use his cartoons. Click on image to see full cartoon.

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Treat Yourself! and Feel Good

anonymousbosch

Anonymous Bosch

You feel good when you give to others. And here’s a way to feel twice as good.

Anonymous Bosch, a long-time supporter of the Coalition, is challenging other supporters to feel good and contribute to KCADP so together we can end the death penalty in Kentucky. Anonymous will match your gifts dollar for dollar up to a max of $4,000.

Here’s the catch.

Anonymous wants that donation between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31. So if you and others collectively contribute $4,000 between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, Anonymous will fork over an additional $4,000 and KCADP will have $8,000 to use to pay salaries, educate the public through our website, Facebook page, Twitter feed and eNewsletter, and continue growing our list of supporters. (More than 400 new supporters have signed on since August.)

It will also help pay for a new service that matches supporters with their legislators and makes it easy to let lawmakers in Kentucky know it is time to stop the killing. We offer a commonsense, alternative punishment for those who kill: life without parole. This sentence punishes severely, protects us from violent killers and, when someone is wrongfully convicted and imprisoned, that person can be released. This eliminates the risk of executing innocent persons.

So, remember this. You always feel good when you give to others. TREAT YOURSELF! Support the #KYRepeal campaign with a donation between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31 and feel twice as good. No need for a pen and checkbook. Use our secure PayPal account to make that contribution on Nov 1 and before Dec. 31:  http://bit.ly/PPgiver. Or mail your check to KCADP, PO BOX 3092, Louisville KY 40201.

As the chair of this Coalition I want you to know I don’t ask others to do what I haven’t already done. Last week, I gave shares of stock to KCADP and it netted $4,895 for the Coalition. I really felt good about that.

So, consider your own financial situation and TREAT YOURSELF! by making as generous a gift as you can – but wait until Nov. 1 to do it. KCADP needs that additional $4,000 that your gift will help generate.

On behalf of all the Board members, thank you for your help.

Photo: Courtesy of Riverbirch Productions, Patrick Delahanty

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Pope Francis Calls For Abolishing the Death Penalty

Catholic News Service (CNS) and others are reporting that Pope Francis is calling for abolition of the death penalty and other penal reforms.

Speaking to representatives of the International Association of Penal Law, Pope Francis said

All Christians and people of good will are thus called today to struggle not only for abolition of the death penalty, whether it be legal or illegal and in all its forms, but also to improve prison conditions, out of respect for the human dignity of persons deprived of their liberty.

The Coalition welcomes this latest confirmation from the Catholic Church that its teachings clearly call for abolition of the death penalty. KCADP supporters might want to be sure their State Senators and State Representatives are aware of this new statement from Pope Francis.

Photo: CNS/Paul Haring

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Support for Life without Parole Gains support Among Democrats, Republicans

Kentucky's death chamberGallup has released its latest measure of public opinion regarding support or opposition to the use of the death penalty. While sixty-three percent of the public expresses support, that support has rapidly eroded over the last twenty years.

“This movement away from the death penalty is a national trend,” said Rev. Patrick Delahanty, who chairs the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. “That six states in the past seven years have abandoned its use and replaced it with a sentence of life in prison without parole is evidence of that trend.” He noted that since 2010 in Kentucky, jurors and judges have rejected the death penalty in every case in which it was sought, but one.

At a joint Interim Judiciary Committee meeting in August, Eastern Kentucky University Dean Allen Ault told lawmakers it would be great if Kentucky banned executions. Ault described for lawmakers the impact executing other human beings had on him and others with whom he worked as Commissioner of Corrections in Georgia.

The erosion of support over these two decades is due to increased concern about executing the innocent. More than 140 wrongfully convicted persons have been released from state death rows, including Larry Osborne released from Kentucky’s death row at Eddyville.

Others are concerned about the death penalty’s high cost. Having this process in place drains resources from state budgets that could easily be used to meet other needs.

Writing for Gallup, Jeffrey Jones says, “Democrats’ opinions have also shifted markedly on the death penalty vs. life imprisonment question. Two decades ago, Democrats preferred the death penalty by a wide margin, but they now prefer life imprisonment by nearly the same margin. Independents’ and Republicans’ views have changed less, although both show increases in support for life imprisonment.”

The findings of the last poll of Kentuckians conducted by the University of Kentucky Survey Center showed that when asked to select the most appropriate punishment for those convicted of aggravated murder – and given the five choices available to Kentucky jurors – sixty-seven percent selected sentences other than death. In fact, since 1997 support for alternatives to the death penalty in Kentucky has steadily increase from thirty-eight percent to over sixty-seven percent in 2006.

What Kentucky jurors are doing mirror these survey results according to Delahanty. “Apparently Kentucky juries believe we can keep society safe and achieve justice by locking up the most dangerous offenders for life,” he said. “Kentucky lawmakers are becoming more and more aware this is a costly process that risks executing the innocent and a less costly and effective alternative is available. Repeal of this law can fix a broken system permanently.”

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