In the wake of the American Bar Association’s damning assessment of Kentucky’s death penalty, American Bar Association President Wm. (Bill) Robinson—a former president of the Kentucky Bar Association too—joined former Kentucky Supreme Court justices James E. Keller and Martin E. Johnstone (members of the assessment team) in writing an op-ed piece for the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Consider the case of a person convicted and sentenced to die with only the evidence of inadmissible hearsay linking him to the crime. Or the person whose defense counsel consisted of a “semi-retired” volunteer lawyer with a drinking problem and a second lawyer with no experience in trying felony cases. Another egregious case involves a defendant whose lawyers failed to present any evidence that would convince the jury to spare his life, when available evidence would have supported a lesser sentence.
We’re saddened to report that these are not only real death penalty cases in Kentucky, but they’re also all too common. The list of problematic cases is staggering, and review of the system is deeply troubling. Fairness, impartiality and effectiveness of counsel have been undermined by serious flaws that reveal systemic problems in administration of the death penalty in the commonwealth…
As officers of the court and members of the bench and bar, we have a duty to uphold the law. We also have an obligation to use our skills, talents and expertise to ensure the fair administration of justice. We take that commitment very seriously. After reviewing too many areas in which we fall short in protecting against wrongful conviction and failing to ensure fair and accurate procedures, we agree with the team’s unanimous recommendation.We are hopeful that our detailed report and analysis will be a call to action for reform of the death penalty system.
In Kentucky, we must reserve capital punishment for the most heinous of offenses and offenders; we have to make sure that we are getting it right. We owe the citizens of this commonwealth no less.
Kentucky’s death penalty is too broken to fix. It needs to be abolished.
Photo: Courtesy American Bar Association