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Confessed Kentucky serial killer Michael Andrew Abner’s life sentence proves death penalty system is flawed

Three-time murderer Michael Andrew Abner's sentence of life without parole underscores the arbitrary nature of Kentucky's death penalty.

Three-time murderer Michael Andrew Abner's sentence of life without parole underscores the arbitrary nature of Kentucky's death penalty.

A public letter to Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear from Don Vish, the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty’s director of education and advocacy, regarding the sentence of serial killer Michael Andrew Abner.

Dear Governor Beshear:

Greetings and good wishes.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is a lifelong supporter of the death penalty. Last May he signed an abolition bill. Why?

The governor’s reasons were not case specific. He simply lost confidence in the system. In signing the abolition bill, Governor Richardson expressed his view that a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole is adequate retributive punishment for the worst of the worst and protects the public from dangerous offenders.

The April 14, 2010 sentencing of Kentucky serial killer Michael Andrew Abner, 47, by the Pulaski County Court raises serious questions about the death penalty system in Kentucky.

Abner is a serial killer who preyed on the elderly, killing with his bare hands. The prosecutor told the sentencing judge: His acts are brutal and heinous, speaking to a complete lack of respect for human life. Over a twenty five year period Abner strangled or stabbed three people to death during separate acts of robbery and arson. He confessed to all of the crimes and the police had independent corroboration of his guilt.

Needless to say, Abner was eligible for the death penalty. With the consent of the victims’ families, however, Abner will spend the rest of his life in prison without possibility of parole.

Abner’s case raises questions about how and when and why capital punishment is applied in Kentucky and whether the death penalty has become an arbitrary punishment removed from any sense of proportionality. If life without possibility of parole is adequate retributive punishment for a serial killer guilty beyond any doubt then who should be executed under Kentucky law?

An honest and impartial examination of aggravated murders in Kentucky—brutal and heinous murders—would lead one to conclude that it is impossible to discern the legal criteria by which some are sentenced to death while others are not.  The gravity of the crime does not appear to be the determining factor as the Abner case dramatically demonstrates.  Or consider the April 2010 case of Raymond Clutter of Warsaw, Kentucky.
Clutter, 63, was accused of raping, killing and dismembering Peggy Casey, 37, in Covington, Kentucky.  Her body parts were found in three different counties in Ohio. The Commonwealth sought the death penalty as the trial opened on April 19, 2010. The prosecutor, an assistant Commonwealth Attorney, made a fatal mistake in the opening statement to the jury (which took five days to select due to the death penalty possibility of the case): he quoted inadmissible hearsay evidence by telling the jury that Raymond Clutter’s son, now deceased, said his father had in fact committed the murder. The judge immediately declared a mistrial. Boone Commonwealth Attorney Linda Talley Smith, after the mistrial, announced that the Commonwealth would retry the case without seeking the death penalty.

Can we be sure that the thirty-four death sentences awaiting execution on Kentucky’s death row are the result of a uniform system of justice equitably and proportionally applied to all offenders throughout Kentucky? The rarity of executions in Kentucky, four over the last fifty-three years, along with cases like Abner’s and Cutter’s suggests we cannot.

This letter requests that you decline to sign any death warrants in light of the current intractable institutional and structural obstacles to ensuring a minimally adequate system for administering capital punishment. This is not a request for a pardon or a commutation or clemency in any particular case. Like Governor Richardson, you may continue to support the death penalty while at the same time expressing reservations about its application.

Sincerely yours,

Donald Vish
Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

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