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Legislators in both chambers introduce death penalty abolition bills

Kentucky Sen. Gerald Neal

Senator Gerald Neal has filed Senate Bill 41 in the Senate which is a bill that repeals the death penalty and keeps in place all the other options currently available to jurors in capital cases, including life without the possibility of parole. Since the bill was filed several other Senators have added their names to the legislation by co-sponsoring SB 41: Senators Perry Clark, Denise Harper Angel, Julie Raque Adams and Reggie Thomas.

web-Floyd-Makes-a-Point-6734In the House State Rep. David Floyd filed House Bill 203 which will accomplish the same goal as the senate bill: end the death penalty and keep in place all the other possible punishments a jury may consider under the current law, including life without the possibility of parole. State Representative Darryl Owens and Arnold Simpson also signed on as co-sponsors of HB 203.

A variety of voices have been raised calling for a change. KCADP published posts about the articles the Courier-Journal printed last November from Allen Ault, Ben Griffith, David Floyd and Marc Hyden. These four pieces make cogent arguments for repeal and you can download them as a package and give them to your state legislators. Click here to download all four articles.

In talking to legislators it is important to point out that there is now clear bi-partisan support for repealing the death penalty in Kentucky. More and more Kentuckians – especially from a politically conservative perspective – are recognizing that we should not be trusting government with the taking of human life. Courts in Kentucky and at the federal level have rejected death sentences in more than 60% of the cases in which it was imposed because the defendants’ constitutional right to a fair trial were violated. Moreover, an error rate this egregious can only lead to instances where innocent defendants risk execution, as did Larry Osborne, a 17-year old defendant convicted and sentenced to death in a trial that our Kentucky Supreme Court unanimously declared was an unfair trial. The prosecutor and judge allowed hearsay testimony that put Larry Osborne on death row. The jury in his second trial found him not guilty.

Cost is another issue causing legislators from both parties to take a look at this broken public policy. Jason Riley reported this in an article for WDRB on Sunday January 17:

It is an issue that even has Republicans and Democrats joining sides, in part because of the growing concerns about the cost of the death penalty.

Death penalty cases are costly because they require two public defenders, mental health experts, more filings and motions to the court and extra preparation while requiring a larger panel of potential jurors. And because each potential juror must be questioned individually about their views of the death penalty, jury selection can take much longer than in a typical case. And if a jury does recommend a sentence of death, the case will drag on in appeals for years.

“It costs an enormous amount of money to litigate those cases,” said [Joseph] Lambert, the former chief justice. “To be honest, in most cases, it would be cheaper to keep a convicted murderer in prison for the rest of his life than to litigate the question of death penalty and ultimately succeed in a death sentence down the road.”

The state Department of Public Advocacy has estimated that Kentucky spends as much as $8 million per year prosecuting, defending and keeping death-row inmates in prison.

You can leave messages for your state legislators at 1.800.372.7181. A staff person answers the phone and makes sure what you want to say is given to those who represent you. During the 60 days lawmakers are in session this phone is answered until 11:00 pm on weekdays, except Friday when the line is open until 6:00 pm. Only when you take action will change take place and we are working together to end the death penalty in Kentucky. Don’t forget to thank bill sponsors and co-sponsors.

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Innocent but on death row: Damon Thibodeaux shares his story in ‘Stolen Years’

Stolen-yearsFor evidence that the death penalty is broken beyond repair, you don’t need to look any further than the case of Damon Thibodeaux. Sentenced to death after confessing to the murder and rape of his teenage step-cousin, Thibodeaux was in fact innocent: exhausted, he’d made a false confession. And at trial, holes in that admission were not pursued by Thibodeaux’s attorney, who was working in his first murder case while also applying for a job at the district attorney’s office.

Thibodeaux is one of 10 former inmates profiled in “Stolen Years: Stories of the Wrongfully Imprisoned” a new book by veteran “New York Post” crime reporter Reuven Fenton. Fenton graciously agreed to let us run his chapter on Thibodeaux here. With a forward by Rubin “Hurricane” Carter from the famed Bob Dylan song, “Stolen Years” is averaging an impressive five stars (out of five) from Amazon reviewers. Select the link to buy the book and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to KCADP via Amazon’s affiliate program.

Read the excerpt here:

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Death penalty use declining around the nation

The Death Penalty Information Center released its 2015 annual report on Wednesday, December 16, announcing that

The use of the death penalty in the U.S. declined by virtually every measure in 2015. The 28 executions this year marked the lowest number since 1991, according to a report released today by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). As of December 15, fourteen states and the federal government have imposed 49 new death sentences this year, a 33% decline over last year’s total and the lowest number since the early 1970s when the death penalty was halted by the U.S. Supreme Court.

While the number of persons under sentences of death dropped below 3,000, the report also points out the fact that six persons in six states under that sentence were exonerated:

Even as the use of the death penalty declined, its most dangerous flaw remained apparent. Six death row prisoners were exonerated of all charges this year, one each in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas. Since 1973, a total of 156 inmates have been exonerated and freed from death row.

In its press release the Center notes that two- thirds of the 28 persons executed this year appeared not to be the “worst of the worst” killers for whom supporters claim the punishment is merited and that courts are not keeping intellectually disabled or mentally ill defendants from facing execution.

In addition, there is an ongoing risk that judicial review is inadequate to protect capital defendants with serious intellectual disabilities or crippling mental illness. DPIC’s report states: “The death penalty is supposed to be reserved for the worst of the worst crimes and the worst of the worst offenders. However, … [t]wo-thirds of the 28 people executed in 2015 exhibited symptoms of severe mental illness, intellectual disability, the debilitating effects of extreme trauma and abuse, or some combination of the three.”

Here in Kentucky there are still no executions since 2008 because of a court-imposed moratorium. Only one or two death sentences have been imposed by juries or judges since 2010. And unexpected voices are being raised to call for an end to executions. Here is a link to a summary of what State Representative David Floyd recently wrote in the Courier-Journal. Rep. Floyd plans to introduce a repeal bill in the 2016 session of the General Assembly.

Links in the introduction to his article take the reader to others whose voices call for abolition: former executioner and dean, Allen Ault; murder victim family member and secretary of the KCADP board, Ben Griffith; and former NRA staffer and current national coordinator for Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, Marc Hyden.

On December 10, Senator Gerald Neal filed a bill that will repeal the death penalty. So we will have both Democrat and Republican sponsors for this legislation. And bills in both chambers. Supporters of repeal are reminded that personal contact with your state legislators urging support for this legislation is really important. Visit them in their districts, attend meetings they host and get to know them personally. You can also call 1.800.372.7181 and leave effective messages for your state senator and your state representative. And don’t ignore those who already support the legislation. Thank them and ask them to be visible, strong advocates for hearings in committee and votes on the floor.

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Calls for abolition highlighted in state’s major newspaper on Nov. 8 – part 4

The Courier-Journal published the work of four columnists and a timeline of recent Kentucky history and the death penalty on Sunday November 8 in its Forum section. The columnists comprised a group of “unusual” suspects, not the kind of folks associated with opposition to the death penalty: a former executioner and dean at a university, a victim family member whose brother was murdered, a Republican, Southern Baptist state representative and a former staff member of the National Rifle Association.

Marc Hyden once worked for the National Rifle Association but now travels the country – several times to Kentucky – proclaiming the good news of conservative values and how true believers should be rejecting the death penalty. For this series in the Courier-Journal he writes:

Capital punishment’s reality really is offensive, especially to conservatives who value life, fiscal responsibility and limited government.

For pro-life conservatives who subscribe to the notion that the government shouldn’t wrongly execute Americans and innocent lives should be safeguarded, the death penalty has become an untenable program.

As a result of his work and that of some Kentuckians interested in seeing the death penalty abolished, a group of northern Kentuckians has invited Marc here to help organize around these conservative values. You can find their Northern Kentucky Concerned About The Death Penalty Facebook page by clicking on the link.

As the National Advocacy Coordinator for Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, Marc recognizes that

Capital cases are complex and protracted, generating an abundance of media attention, which forces victims’ friends and family members to relive the worst chapters of their lives publicly and repeatedly. The additional trauma often inflicted in death penalty cases could be easily avoided by seeking life without the chance of release. Murder victims’ families deserve better than this, and for this reason, many have concluded that capital punishment is a complete failure.

He’s not the only conservative with these views and closes his article by reminding readers of some others:

The death penalty is quite clearly broken beyond repair, but capital punishment’s alternatives are safer, cheaper and more effective. More conservatives are recognizing this point. Political and thought leaders including Jay Sekulow, Dr. Ron Paul, Colonel Oliver North and Michael Steele have joined the growing number of conservatives who believe that the death penalty is neither useful nor necessary, and many have determined that capital punishment is simply dangerous in the hands of our error-prone government.

You can read his whole article by clicking here.

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Calls for abolition highlighted in state’s major newspaper on Nov. 8 – part 3

The Courier-Journal published the work of four columnists and a timeline of recent Kentucky history and the death penalty on Sunday in its Forum section. The columnists comprised a group of “unusual” suspects, not the kind of folks associated with opposition to the death penalty: a former executioner and dean at a university, a victim family member whose brother was murdered, a Republican, Southern Baptist state representative and a former staff member of the National Rifle Association.

State Rep. David Floyd from Bardstown has many reasons for opposing the death penalty, having abandoned his previous support for it. In the article written for the Courier-Journal, he focuses on its cost. Friends will approach him and say, “Just kill ’em; it’s cheaper.” Fortunately, Rep. Floyd is a thoughtful man, and studious, which is why he responds:

It’s counterintuitive, but taxpayers spend far more on our system of capital punishment than we would if the death penalty were not an option. Every study undertaken in the U.S. concludes that our death penalty system is far more costly than a criminal justice system in which the maximum sentence is life without the possibility of parole.

He cites some of the facts gleaned as he has studied this issue over the years and spells out for the reader just why death penalty trials and the subsequent appeals are costly and necessary. Necessary, primarily, to make sure the state does not execute innocent persons. In the end, in answer to the question – why is the death penalty a bad investment for Kentucky – Rep. Floyd concludes:

Why is the death penalty a bad investment for Kentucky? After spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the death penalty since 1976, we are left with the following results: a) the majority of those sentenced to death in Kentucky had their death sentences reversed by the courts; b) in the majority of cases in which the death penalty was sought, judges and juries imposed sentences other than death; and c) only 3 percent of those sentenced to death actually die from execution. Given the high cost of maintaining this system and the results it yields, is this not a bad investment for Kentucky?

To read all that Rep. Floyd has to say please click here.

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