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Senator Meyer dies; sponsored bill ending death penalty for mentally disabled

Retired senator, Danny Meyer, a Democrat from Louisville, died peacefully in his sleep on Wednesday, May 4. Danny was 80 years old and had retired from office in 1994.

Before retirement he worked hard to pass a bill to stop Kentucky from subjecting mentally disabled persons to the death penalty. He worked together with former state representative Dotty Priddy. In 1988 when Dotty’s House bill failed to get a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Danny attempted to amend a sure-to-pass bill in the Senate. However, now deceased Senator and Judiciary Committee chair Kelsey Friend objected that this amendment was a piggy-back to the House bill in his committee and the Senate President, Eck Rose, supported Friend’s objection and did not allow a vote on the amendment.

That ignited the fighting Irish spirit of Danny and he told me (Patrick Delahanty) that he wanted to sponsor the bill in the Senate in 1990 (the General Assembly was not yet meeting annually). He asked me to be his aide and provide him with the legal information he needed and he assured me he knew how to work the political side of the strategy. Eventually that included walking precincts in Senator Rose’s district and hometown, Winchester, Ky. Eck was appreciative and in 1990 with far less difficulty the bill sponsored by Danny in the Senate received its committee hearing and vote on the floor with only two Senators of the 38 voting nay.

Dotty, still the chair of the House Judiciary committee and sponsor of the House bill, promptly gave the bill a hearing and it passed favorably and later received overwhelming support on the House floor.

Because of their efforts, Kentucky became the third state to ban the execution of mentally disabled persons and this was significant in the U. S. Supreme Court’s 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia declaring the practice unconstitutional and a violation of the eighth amendment.

Danny told great stories, was diligent in serving constituents and remained a good friend until this day. KCADP extends condolences to his wife Patty, his children, grandchildren and one great grandchild. His 57 years of marriage and his love of family flowed over in service to his community, his city and his state and we are much the better for it. Peace, Senator, and keep watch over us. Your work set us on the path to the eventual abolition of the death penalty for everyone in Kentucky. Thank you!

To read the Courier-Journal report on his death click on the campaign button at the top of this page.

Photo: Joe Gerth courtesy of the Courier-Journal

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Only 2 shy of the needed 10 votes

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David Floyd, second from the left, is flanked by Marc Hyden, far left, and Steve Ryan next to Rep. Floyd, and Joe Gutmann far right.

House Bill 203 sponsored by State Rep. David Floyd almost gained the necessary votes to be sent to the House floor for a full debate and passage.  So many supporters packed the hearing room that an overflow room was opened to accommodate the crowd.

Rep. Floyd told the committee at the beginning that if there were time they would have heard from all those who had written letters of support: the Kentucky American Civil Liberties Union, the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, the Kentucky Council of Churches, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, the Kentucky NAACP, Victim Family Members of Kentucky (many of whom sat right behind Rep. Floyd), the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the evangelical voice of Dr. John Chowning and others.

Testifying on behalf of the bill were Marc Hyden, national coordinator of Conservatives About the Death Penalty, former Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Joseph Gutmann and retired Circuit Court Judge Stephen Ryan. Theirs was an excellent presentation and what they said is captured in news reports of the hearing. They made it clear that our system is broken, expensive and so faulty it risks the lives of the innocent. They also noted it does not serve victims family members. A letter from victim family members to all the committee members stressed this also.

Press coverage of the event was extensive. Links below demonstrate how widespread coverage was. This is historic. It is the first time since reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976 that a bill to abolish the death penalty received a hearing with a vote. KCADP certainly appreciates the support of the 12 co-sponsors of the bill and the eight committee members who voted yes to support HB 203. We encourage readers to send notes of thanks to them.

Please thank our sponsor and co-sponosors – David Floyd, George Brown Jr., Tom Burch, Denver Butler, Kelly Flood, Jerry Miller, Darryl Owens, Arnold Simpson, Diane St. Onge, David Watkins, Jim Wayne, Susan Westrom and Addia Wuchner. You may click on a name to send an email.

Please thank the following committee members who voted to support HB 203Rep. Darryl T. Owens [Chair], Rep. Kelly FloodRep. Chris HarrisRep. Joni L. JenkinsRep. Mary Lou MarzianRep. Reginald MeeksRep. Tom Riner and Rep. Kevin Sinnette.

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Rep. Watkins speaks against the bill. Rage and revenge fuel his remarks.

The leader of the House Republicans, Rep. Jeff Hoover did not attend this committee meeting. Another member, Rep. Brent Yonts, passed after suggesting amending the bill.

Here are the names of those voting no with links in case you want to let them know how disappointing it is that they vote to maintain a system that risks taking the life of innocent defendants: Rep. Joseph M. Fischer [Vice Chair], Rep. Johnny BellRep. Robert Benvenuti IIIRep. Jim Gooch JrRep. Thomas KerrRep. Stan LeeRep. Suzanne MilesRep. Ken Upchurch and Rep. Gerald Watkins.

One committee member, Rep. Kerr, spoke about St. Paul’s letter to the Romans and the government’s right to execute. In the Kentucky Today article (link below) Rep. Floyd asks, “How many innocent people do you think Saint Paul would want us to execute, so that we could execute the truly guilty?”

KCADP is also grateful to State Senator Gerald Neal who has for years been an ally of ours. Not only has he introduced bills to abolish the death penalty throughout the years, he was the sponsor of Kentucky’s Racial Just Act which became law in 1998. This remains the only legislation of its type in the U. S. Click on his name to thank him.

Press coverage links:

In addition versions of the AP story or the story by Ronnie Ellis ran in Evansville’s Tristatehomepage.com, WSAZ in Huntington, WV, The Richmond Register, WEKU FM, West Kentucky Star, Messenger-Inquirer (James Mayse reporter), Harlan Daily Enterprise, Paducah Sun and WUKY (Josh James reporter).

The Sunday before the hearing, the Lexington Herald-Leader published its editorial calling for the abolition of the death penalty. This was a shift in their editorial position which had been keep the death penalty but fix it. Read “Ky. should abolish the death penalty” by clicking on the link.

On the Sunday following the hearing, The State Journal in Frankfort Kentucky published “A matter of life and death: Support for death penalty should be revisited” along with a powerful cartoon.

 

To watch the hearing you can click here. Testimony on the bill begins at about the 22:47 minute mark.

Photos: Pat Delahanty

 

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Bill to expand the death penalty filed in Frankfort

Robert Benvenuti III

State Representative Robert Benvenuti III, a Catholic lawmaker from Lexington, filed House Bill 508 on February 26. This bill adds “the murder of a victim aged 12 years old or younger or an adult as defined in KRS 209.020 as an aggravating circumstance for the death penalty.”  In order to be sentenced to death, one must also be found guilty of committing another crime which is included in a list of “aggravating circumstances.” By continually expanding the list of “aggravating circumstances” lawmakers throughout the nation have guaranteed that the death penalty is no longer a sentence only for the “worst of the worst,” but remains arbitrary and discriminatory. Here is an example of applying it in a way that discriminates by age.

Here is the definition for adult found in KRS 209.020:

Adult” means a person eighteen (18) years of age or older who, because of mental or physical dysfunctioning, is unable to manage his or her own resources, carry out the activity of daily living, or protect himself or herself from neglect, exploitation, or a hazardous or abusive situation without assistance from others, and who may be in need of protective services.

The Coalition opposes this legislation, as it will any attempt to expand the use of the death penalty, especially now that seven states have recently abolished it and pro-life, conservative lawmakers are calling for its abolition in several states, including Kentucky. KCADP notes that in opposing this legislation there is strong support from Pope Francis who has said that the death penalty is “inadmissible, however serious the crime.”

Similar bills have been filed in the past and not been given hearings in Judiciary committees of the House or Senate. The chair of the House Judiciary Committee is State Rep. Darryl Owens and you can leave messages for him at 1.800.372.7181.

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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:
Continued…

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