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Lexington Herald-Leader: ‘Stop executing the mentally ill’

Lexington Herald-LeaderFrom The Lexington Herald-Leader editorial “Stop executing the mentally ill“:

The death penalty in Kentucky has come under profound and justified scrutiny.

A study by the American Bar Association released in December recommended that Kentucky halt executions until some of the flaws in the system are fixed. We support that caution.

The report took particular note of the lack of protections against executing people with serious mental disabilities. The problems with the death penalty in Kentucky can’t be solved in one session, if they can be solved at all.

However, HB 145 does address the treatment of mental illness in death penalty cases, and should be passed. The bill, now appearing in its third session, was introduced by Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, and has 10 co-sponsors. It was assigned to the House Judiciary committee but has not been called for a hearing.

The bill provides that a person who “had a severe mental disorder or disability that significantly impaired his or her capacity” to understand the nature and consequences of his or her actions at the time a crime was committed cannot be executed.

The bill specifies that disorders brought on by intentional use of drugs and alcohol do not by themselves qualify for the prohibition.

The ABA report points out that while Kentucky does prohibit execution of profoundly retarded individuals it “does not prohibit execution of offenders with mental disabilities similar to mental retardation, such as dementia or traumatic brain injury,” which affect reasoning but often manifest themselves later in life.

Under this bill, mentally ill people who commit capital crimes would be subject to all other punishments under our code, including life imprisonment.

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