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‘We’re a bloodthirsty country, and the death penalty is nothing but vengeance’

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Gary Drinkard at St. Edward Church, Jeffersontown, KY

Gary Drinkard speaks from experience when he says, “We’re a bloodthirsty country, and the death penalty is nothing but vengeance.”

Freed from Alabama’s death row after 6 years, Gary visited several Kentucky cities to educate anyone who would listen about the danger of giving the power to kill citizens to other citizens. It can lead to the execution of innocent men and women.

Everywhere he went, people stared in amazement as his story unfolded and they grasped how easy it is to be on the wrong end of a prosecution. Even though no physical evidence linked him to the murder, he still ended up on death row. Using the lies of his sister, a prosecutor convinced twelve people he did it. His inexperienced and under-trained attorneys did not know how to argue his case, and he lost 6 years of freedom and lived with the constant threat of execution. Fortunately he did win a new trial and this time a trained team of lawyers could defend him against the wrongful prosecution.

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Gary Drinkard describing incarceration on death row, yet innocent.

Before his arrival in Kentucky, Gary spoke with Greg Stotelmyer of Public News Service-Ky. Click here to listen to that interview.

Gary also stopped by the WHAS radio studios to speak with popular talk show host Leland Conway. Their conversation is enlightening and you can hear the whole thing by clicking here.

The Kentucky Standard reported on his presentation at the Basilica of St. Joseph in Bardstown and also published an editorial – Death penalty should be done away with Ky Standard – calling for the abolition of the death penalty in Kentucky.

KyForward printed a summary of the tour on its website on the day it began.

Murray State public radio – WKMS 91.3 – focused on the abolition issue after seeing the Kentucky Standard article.

This Witness to Innocence Tour was made possible by the ACLU of Kentucky, one of KCADP’s most active and dedicated partner organizations. Look for another tour in November 2014, and in early 2015.

Photos: courtesy Riverbirch Productions, rights reserved.

 

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Innocent, But Condemned to Die

With last week’s news of the release of two North Carolina men after years on death row coming not long after Arizona botched an execution of Joseph Wood, it can’t be any clearer that this is a wasteful government program gone very bad. KCADP delights in the fact that the interim joint Judiciary Committee of the Kentucky General Assembly devoted two hours on August 1 to a discussion of whether Kentucky should maintain this broken system.

We await further action by this committee and other lawmakers. In the meantime we will keep their attention focused on the system’s waste of Kentucky’s taxpayers’ money and the risk of executing innocent defendants. The ACLU of Kentucky, a key partner in the coalition, is hosting another Witness to Innocence Tour in mid-September. (Watch for another one in November.)

Gary Drinkard

Gary Drinkard spent close to six years on Alabama’s death row before being exonerated in 2001. He was sentenced to death in 1995 for the robbery and murder of a 65-year-old automotive junk dealer in Decatur, Alabama. Unable to afford an attorney, he was assigned two lawyers with no experience trying criminal cases. Despite being at home at the time of the murders, and suffering from a debilitating back injury, Gary was convicted and sentenced to death.

Gary maintained his innocence. Amazingly, the conviction rested primarily on testimony by Gary’s half-sister and her common-law husband, both facing charges for unrelated crimes. In exchange for testifying, all the charges against Gary’s half-sister were dismissed.

In 2000, the Alabama Supreme Court ordered a new trial because of prosecutorial misconduct, and with the help of the Southern Center for Human Rights, Gary won an acquittal in 2001.

Gary is coming to Kentucky to share his story of wrongful conviction, and release from death row. All events are open to the public and we hope you invite your State Senator and State Representative to come with you to hear Gary’s story.

BARDSTOWN – Mon: Sept. 22
Basilica of St. Joseph, 310 West Stephen Foster Ave.
7:00 – 8:30 PM

HOPKINSVILLE – Tue: Sept. 23
Hopkinsville Community & Technical College, 720 North Dr.
NOON – 1:00 PM

Sts. Peter & Paul Church, 902 E 9th St.
6:00 – 7:30 PM

EDGEWOOD – Sept. 24
Gateway Community and Technical College, 790 Thomas More Parkway
Lower Building, Room E-101
7:00 – 8:30 PM

LOUISVILLE – Sept. 25
Wildwood Country Club, 5000 Bardstown Rd.
NOON – 1:00 PM  This event takes place with a Rotary Club. Open to the public, but $10 for lunch

University of Louisville-Brandeis School of Law, 2301 South Third Street
4:15 – 5:30 PM

JEFFERSONTOWN – Sept. 26
St. Edward Church, 9608 Sue Helen Dr.
6:30 – 7:30 PM

Photo: ACLU-KY website

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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.

Photo: http://mugshots-directory.com/

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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

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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.)

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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.

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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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