Saturday the Louisville Courier-Journal‘s editorial board highlighted just how broken Kentucky’s death penalty system is in “An execution halted“:
The murder of Debbie Pooley in 1988 was a horrendous, tragic event.
That became clear last week, when Frankfort Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd issued an order barring the Corrections Cabinet from carrying out the execution. Gov. Steve Beshear had earlier ordered that death by lethal injection take place Sept. 16.
The Kentucky Supreme Court now will hear arguments from public defenders in support of Wilson, whom they argue failed to be adequately represented in his trial 22 years ago. They also contend that Wilson is mentally retarded and as such ineligible to be executed.
“It appears that Wilson’s execution has been scheduled before there has been any determination of his mental capacity,” Judge Shepherd wrote. “… This court finds there is a good faith basis to believe that Wilson may be ineligible for the death penalty.”
Dan Goyette, the public defender from Louisville who is representing Wilson, is at work with his team developing a response for the high court. Meanwhile, Attorney General Jack Conway has appealed Judge Shepherd’s decision, urging the court to dissolve the order and allow the execution to occur.
Kentucky has executed only three people since 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the practice to presume.
Earlier this year, three death-row inmates filed suit against the state, arguing against the Corrections Cabinet’s regulations about capital punishment, and after Gov. Beshear signed his death warrant, Wilson joined the case. Mr. Goyette, the attorney, praised Judge Shepherd’s stay of execution, noting: “Given the troubling and tumultuous history of this case, much of which has thus far been papered over, it is encouraging that some of the important issues raised in this case will now be properly reviewed by the court in an orderly legal process.”
The Courier-Journal’s Andrew Wolfson reported earlier this month that Wilson’s trial was peppered with problems. The two attorneys who defended him were inept; one had never tried a felony, let alone a murder case, and the other practiced out of his home and showed signs of being “a burned-out alcoholic.”
Putting Gregory Wilson to death with so many uncertainties would — rather than serve justice — put a stain on the state and its legal system. The Supreme Court should bear that in mind as it reviews this appeal.