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Herald-Leader praises Judge Goodwine in editorial

Judge Goodwine

After reporting last week about the decision Judge Pamela Goodwine made when she granted a defense motion to remove the death penalty as a possible punishment in an upcoming trial, the Lexington Herald-Leader has now praised the judge in an editorial on Mother’s Day.

Noting that Judge Goodwine is a murder victim family member, the editor wrote,

Congratulations to Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine on striking a blow for common sense and conserving public resources….

Her carefully written order noted that the facts of the case — a single murder related to a dispute over drugs and money — “are not unique.” But, she writes, “not one time in this Commonwealth has a death sentence been recommended by a jury and upheld on appeal in a case involving actual or suspected drug trafficking.”

The editor asked,  “Why expend resources and inconvenience prospective jurors, their families and employers when it’s obvious a death verdict will never be returned?” So had Judge Goodwine. She did, indeed, strike a blow for common sense.

This Coalition believes it is time for lawmakers to recognize how broken this death sentencing scheme is in Kentucky and give further consideration to doing away with it entirely. Life without parole is the cost effective, severe punishment that can protect us and satisfy the need for justice.

Photo: Kentucky Progress Blogspot

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Judge rejects prosecutor’s attempt to seek death penalty

The Lexington Herald-Leader is reporting that Fayette County Judge Pamela Goodwine has removed the death penalty as a sentencing option when defendants go to trial:

“Co-defendants in an upcoming robbery-murder trial will not face the possibility of execution after Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine granted a defense motion to remove the death penalty from the jury’s sentencing options.”

In her order, Judge Goodwine provides an explanation of her decision. After describing the outcomes of other trials with similar facts, none of which ended in the jury sentencing anyone to death, Judge Goodwine concluded that no Fayette County jury would even seriously consider a death sentence in this case. Like other cases, the murder of Derek Pelphrey involved drugs and a large amount of money. Judge Goodwine’s five page order can be read by clicking here.

Fayette Commonwealth Attorney Ray Larson

Judge Goodwine points out in a gentle way that Fayette County Commonwealth Attorney Ray Larson does not use the discretion state law allows and seeks the death penalty in far too many cases.

Bringing every case to court and asking for a death sentence, instead of bringing the worst of the worst cases, consumes court time and resources that non-capital cases do not. In 2011 the ABA report on Kentucky’s death sentencing process prepared by distinguished Kentucky legal scholars and former Kentucky Supreme Court justices drew similar conclusions. They recommended establishing an entity to provide oversight of state prosecutors and death penalty decisions.

Judge Goodwine’s decision certainly highlights one of many ways using the death penalty in Kentucky has led to a broken, expensive system of justice. KCADP will continue to call for the repeal of this law. Only repeal will insure prosecutorial misconduct and discretion will not lead to costly trials and the risk of executing the innocent. Kentucky juries will still have the ability to sentence violent murders to life without parole. This assures safety for Kentuckians and severe punishment for murderers.


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All signs point to death penalty’s demise

scales_justiceThe U. S. Supreme Court is considering a case out of Oklahoma regarding the use of a particular drug. It’s impossible to know what the Court will decide, but its decision to address the constitutionality of midazolam, which is used in only a handful of states, is completely appropriate given the drug’s use in a number of recent botched executions.

It’s important to recognize, however, that no matter the drug used in executions, the death penalty is broken beyond repair. It’s extremely costly, the long drawn-out process inflicts more pain and suffering on grieving families and we can never completely eliminate the possibility of execution an innocent person. The simple truth is that the death penalty cannot be fixed and the only solution is to replace it with life in prison without the possibility of parole.


Shekinah Lavalle

Shekinah Lavalle

Outreach Coordinator Shekinah Lavalle led a highly successful campaign during the past legislative session which brought together lawmakers, victim family members and persons exonerated after proving their wrongful convictions. These meetings ordinarily took place on Wednesdays during the session, but also occurred at other times convenient for lawmakers. Several legislators expressed that their support for the death penalty was waning and they had many concerns about the system as it functions now. Others clearly voiced support and are now ready to vote for abolishing this penalty and keeping in place life without parole or pardon (LWOP).

Meetings will continue during these months when the General Assembly is not in session. Shekinah will be working to arrange meetings and if any reader wants to work with her you should email her or give her a call at 502.636.1330.


Sabrina-ButlerThe ACLU of Kentucky sponsored another Witness To Innocence tour since the session ended. This tour drew record crowds who came out to listen to Sabrina Butler describe her nightmarish experience of being sentenced to death in a Mississippi courtroom. Listeners described her story as heartbreaking.

In questionnaires collected after the presentation it was not unusual to find participants who said they supported the death penalty before hearing her story now saying, “[Her story] opened my eyes to make me actually understand more about death penalty and how unfair it is for many.” This writer also noted that her views had changed and that she now believes the system is broken, cannot be fixed and should be abolished.

The ACLU of Kentucky and KCADP are working to bring additional exonerees into the state to describe their victimization at the hands of a state government. The number of wrongfully convicted exonerees who were sentenced to death now numbers 152 persons. The exact number of innocent persons executed is not known.

Photo: Scales of Justice – Flickr/Citizensheep;  

Mother Wrongly Sentenced to Death for Killing Infant Son Will Share Her Story

Sabrina-ButlerThe ACLU of Kentucky and the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty are bringing Mississippi death row exoneree Sabrina Butler Porter back to the Commonwealth to share her story.

She is the first female death row exoneree in the United States.  Sabrina was a teenager when she was sentenced to death for the abuse and murder of her infant son.  After spending three years on death row, and five years in prison, Sabrina was exonerated when investigators determined her son died from natural causes.

When she visited Kentucky in November 2013, she was the only woman exonerated. In March, another woman was freed after more than 20 years on death row in Arizona.

You can read more about Sabrina in this post announcing her 2013 visit.

Sabrina will be traveling the state speaking about her personal experience facing the death penalty and urging listeners to take action by contacting Kentucky legislators and asking for their support in abolishing the death penalty in our state. Below is a list of the communities where she will be speaking along with times and sites for the events.

Tuesday, April 7:

Covington Rotary Club Luncheon 12:15 p.m. (Radisson Riverside 668 W. 5th St., Covington)
University of Louisville 6:00 p.m. (Chao Auditorium-Ekstrom Library)

Wednesday, April 8:

Northern Kentucky University 12:00 p.m. (322 Nunn Hall)
Eastern Kentucky University 5:00 p.m. (O’Donnell Auditorium, Whitlock Building)

Thursday, April 9:

Western Kentucky University 3:30 p.m. (Gary Ransdell Hall Auditorium GRH 1074)

These events are hosted by the ACLU of Kentucky, KY Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Witness to Innocence & Death Row Exonoree Sabrina Butler Porter

For further information or to schedule an interview with Sabrina, contact Shekinah Lavalle at (502) 636-1330 or

Photo: ©2013 Pat Delahanty, used with permission

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It’s Time for Lawmakers to Quit Tinkering with the Machinery of Death

Justice Blackmun

Fifteen years ago this week, Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun concluded that after a 20-year struggle with the issue of the death penalty he could no longer support it: “The death penalty experiment has failed,” he wrote. “From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.” He called upon his fellow justices to abandon the “delusion” that capital punishment could be consistent with the Constitution.

In 2009, The American Law Institute, national professionals who had provided the model legislation that led to the system now in place, followed Justice Blackmun and withdrew its support for its own model. ALI Director Lance Liebman said that the Institute was withdrawing its support of Section 210.6 of the Model Penal Code “in light of the current intractable institutional and structural obstacles to ensuring a minimally adequate system for administering capital punishment.” The Institute also decided not to engage any further in proposing legislation related to capital punishment.

No matter how significant these voices are, Kentucky continues to ignore reality and “tinker[s] with the machinery of death.”

This past week, however, death penalty machinery ground to a halt in two more cases. Grave errors in two separate cases resulted in death sentences being struck down, and, in one case, even the conviction was reversed.

A federal court concluded that a death sentence was improperly imposed on Roger Wheeler because the trial judge wrongly dismissed a juror who was able to consider the range of penalties fairly. The Court stated that to exclude an otherwise eligible juror stacks the deck against the defendant. Carrying out a death sentence under circumstances like these is to “deprive [a defendant] of his life without due process of law.”

In the other case, the Kentucky Supreme Court concluded unanimously that Michael St. Clair’s trial for kidnapping was tainted by the introduction of evidence of a murder that took place in another state. This, the Court said, could lead to undue prejudice, confusion of the issues in the trial, and misleading the jury. The trial court also allowed the out-of-state murder victim’s widow to offer testimony that was irrelevant to the charges St. Clair faced. The Court said these errors were not harmless and struck down both the convictions and the death sentence.

These are two more examples of why Kentucky should abolish the death penalty. Nearly 70% of the death sentences imposed in Kentucky have been reversed, adding to the trauma victims’ family members already suffer because of this broken system. Add to that the possibility of executing the innocent, as could have happened in the case of Larry Osborne whose death sentence and conviction were unanimously reversed by the Kentucky Supreme Court. Osborne was subsequently declared “not guilty” by a jury in 2002.

These harmful errors also burden taxpayers with the added costs of new trials that have consumed millions of tax dollars that left other areas of need unfunded. The Courier-Journal has reported

Kentucky is spending millions of dollars each year on a capital-punishment system so ineffective that more death-row inmates are dying of natural causes than are being executed.[Louisville Courier-Journal]

Enlightened legislators are filing bills that repeal the death penalty, or determine its costs or tinker with the system with the hope of repairing it and restore its credibility.

Justice Blackmun saw the light 15 years ago and quit tinkering with the machinery of death; those who drafted the model law for its implementation agreed in 2009 that the machine is broken beyond repair and withdrew their model law and decided not to offer another one.

It is time to quit tinkering with the machinery of death in Kentucky. Contact your state legislators and urge support for bills that will end our tinkering with the death penalty for good: 1.800.372.7181.

Photos: courtesy government sources

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