A jury in Jefferson County rejected the death penalty on Tuesday, September 10, in the case of a man convicted of murdering two others and robbing them. Their decision to impose a sentence of life without parole on Samuel Daniels continues the trend away from the use of the death penalty in Kentucky. The Courier-Journal reported that “[t]he last time a jury in Jefferson County recommended a death sentence was in 2004.”
The Kentucky Department of Corrections website lists the last date for a death sentence imposed on a death row inmate as March 19, 2010. Over the past several years, for reasons not so clear, jurors and prosecutors are backing away from the death penalty. This raises some serious questions about its continued use and about any decision to kill those already on death row. Kentucky law requires our Supreme Court justices to look for proportionality in death sentencing cases, but that process has been found lacking by some. On page xxv of the Executive Summary of the American Bar Association’s Kentucky Death Penalty Assessment Report it states:
While Commonwealth law requires the Kentucky Supreme Court to determine, on direct appeal, “[w]hether the sentence of death is excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases, considering both the crime and the defendant,” the Kentucky Supreme Court limits its proportionality review to only those cases in which the death penalty actually was imposed. The Court does not consider cases in which the death penalty was sought but not imposed, or cases in which the death penalty could have been sought but was not. Without a review mechanism to ensure that similar sentences are imposed in similar cases on similar defendants, there is no guarantee of internal consistency within Kentucky’s application of the death penalty.
If the sentence is to be used only in the “worst of the worst” cases as proponents claim, where is the internal consistency when a double child killer and rapist like Robert Drown, Jr. gets to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of life in prison. Or when the triple-murderer, Lloyd Hammond, is sentenced by a jury to life without parole. In another case, that of Clayton Jackson who killed three children, the prosecutor says justice was served when the jury sentenced him to life without parole. In a Jefferson County case which the judge described as the “worst criminal case” he had seen in 18 years on the bench, the prosecution did not seek the death penalty for a man who killed all four of his children. He was sentenced to life. In June 2013, William Blancet, Sr. – a triple-murderer – pled guilty in exchange for a sentence of life without parole. This is unusual, not because of the facts of the crime, but because it happened in Fayette County where the Commonwealth Attorney has stated over and over again that he always takes death eligible cases to the jury.
Kentucky’s death sentencing scheme is clearly not for the “worst of the worst.” There is no internal consistency with its application and, given human nature and our ability to make mistakes, it is unlikely a system can be devised that will guarantee it. Given that reality Kentucky should abandon the use of capital punishment.