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Courier-Journal: Kentucky’s costly death penalty system is too broken to fix, leading more death row inmates to die of natural causes than execution

Today’s Louisville Courier-Journal published two articles by R.G. Dunlop on Kentucky’s broken and costly death penalty system:

The pieces focus on Kentucky’s aging death row population: the appeals needed to ensure defendants receive a fair trial are so costly that the commonwealth can’t afford to pursue them in a timely manner. But the number of death row inmates in Kentucky who’ve had their sentences reduced–and the risk of executing an innocent person, as Texas did with Cameron Todd Willingham–necessitate those checks and balances.

The result? A death penalty system that’s costly, does not deter crime, and leaves victims’ family members languishing.

Some highlights from the articles:

  • “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.”
  • “30 other inmates whom Kentucky circuit judges sent to death row over the past 33 years ultimately have seen their sentences reduced as the result of appeals, suggesting widespread flaws at the trial level.”
  • “The state Department of Public Advocacy estimates that Kentucky spends as much as $8 million a year prosecuting, defending and incarcerating death-row inmates, even as state-ordered budget cuts impair other aspects of the judicial branch of government.”
  • “‘We’ve got a system in Kentucky where there’s not enough money for public advocates, for prosecutors, for drug courts, family courts, for juvenile services, for rehabilitation programs, and we’re using the money we have in a way I think is unwise,’ said Jason Nemes, former director of the state Administrative Office of the Courts. ‘Every dollar that goes to our ineffective capital punishment system is a dollar taken away from other needs.’”
  • “[Former Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph] Lambert said death-penalty cases often become ‘legal monsters,’ and that while a decision about whether to abolish capital punishment is a ‘political question … it’s impossible to streamline death-penalty litigation to justify the cost, because doing so would dramatically increase the risk of wrongful executions.’ Part of the problem, Lambert added, is that citizens aren’t ‘sufficiently informed’ about the death penalty, and instinctively react to the perpetrators of heinous crimes with an attitude of, ‘let’s execute ’em.'”

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