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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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Dead Man Walking – The Journey Continues October 24, 25

Sister Helen March 2014 - Scott Langley-40_halfsizeSister Helen Prejean C.S.J  is coming back to Kentucky with her gift of storytelling to speak about her years of ministering to those caught up in our criminal justice system because of violent murders and violent executions.

Best known for her groundbreaking book, Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States, Sr. Helen continues to educate listeners about the tragedy of the death penalty. As a result of accompanying six men to their deaths, she began to suspect that some of those executed were not guilty. This insight led to her second book, The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions.

While in Kentucky both books will be available for purchase at $15 each or $25 for both. Following her presentations she is available to sign copies of the purchased books.

  • She will be preaching at 7:00 p.m. at the annual assembly of the Kentucky Council of Churches, Friday Oct. 24, at Lakeside Presbyterian Church, 2690 Dixie Highway, Lakeside Park, KY. This is a public event and we invite all our supporters in northern Kentucky to come hear Sister Helen. Bring a friend and your State Senator and State Representative with you. For complete information about the annual assembly click here for the Conference brochure.
  • On Saturday Oct. 25, Sister Helen will present “Dead Man Walking – The Journey Continues” from 7:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. at St. Michael Church, 3705 Stone Lakes Dr., Louisville, Ky. For directions, click here.

Sister Helen has been instrumental in sparking national dialogue on the death penalty and helping to shape the Catholic Church’s newly vigorous opposition to state executions.  She travels around the world giving talks about her ministry.  She considers herself a southern storyteller.

Sister Helen is a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph. She spent her first years with the Sisters teaching religion to junior high school students.  Realizing that being on the side of poor people is an essential part of the Gospel she moved into the St. Thomas Housing Project in New Orleans and began working at Hope House from 1981 – 1984.

Her journey began when asked to correspond with a death row inmate, Patrick Sonnier. Her first book – later a movie, an opera, and a play – is an account of that experience. Through her public appearances she invites listeners to join her as the journey continues.

Walk with her by bringing yourself, a friend, and your State Senator and State Representative to one of these inspiring events.

Share this information as broadly as possible through your social networks and any organizations to which you belong.

Photo: courtesy www.sisterhelen.org

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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.

The Record, the weekly newspaper for the Archdiocese of Louisville, published a front-page account of the presentation at St. Edward Church in Jeffersontown.

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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