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Death sentencing down in nation and in Kentucky

In July 2011 over in Barren County, the Commonwealth planned to put Miguel Angel Velázquez on Kentucky’s death row, but then abandoned that idea and allowed him to plead guilty to a triple murder in exchange for a sentence of life without parole. A hint of why was found in a news report: “[Commonwealth Attorney Karen] Davis said the agreement had the effect of keeping the public safe and avoiding the expense of a trial.” (Emphasis added.)

Over the past several years, while Kentucky’s executive branch has dealt with its unlawful protocol and the lack of availability of drugs to poison inmates, prosecutors, judges and juries have continued to bring violent killers to justice. But concern about costs and a new awareness that victim family members are satisfied with sentences less than death has resulted in surprising court outcomes.

Rather than death sentences in at least 16 death eligible cases,  lengthy sentences ranging from 50 years to life without parole have been imposed on defendants who most would agree are among the “worst of the worst,” the type of killers we have been told deserve death.

Yet in the cases of Robert Drown (Carter County, 2010), Raymond Clutter (Boone County, 2010), Michael Abner (Pulaski County, 2010), Raymond Harris (Bell County, 2010), Robert Maple (Carter County, 2011), John Devine Sr. (Jefferson County, 2012), Dalton Stidham (Perry County, 2014), Charles Copass (Barren County, 2014), and Ellen Crawley (Jefferson County, 2014) victim survivors, prosecutors who were planning to seek death, and law enforcement expressed support for the sentences imposed on these defendants. You can read a summary of these cases and others by clicking here. For more details on each of these cases, a Google search on the name of the defendant will lead you to more information about each case.

Repeal legislation will soon be introduced in the General Assembly when it meets in 2015. There will also be bills trying to get a study to determine the cost of the death penalty to taxpayers in Kentucky. Lawmakers need to hear from their fellow Kentuckians. They are probably not aware of the cases described above. But constituents could download that document and deliver it to their state representatives and state senators. The death penalty in Kentucky is not being imposed by judges and juries on the worst of the worst. And when it is – once in the past 4 years – it has a cost associated with it that we don’t know.

Kentucky judges, juries, victim family members and prosecutors have demonstrated the death penalty is not necessary. It’s time for lawmakers to reach that conclusion and repeal the death penalty while keeping in place life without parole as a punishment that protects us from violent killers and satisfies the demands of justice.

Graphic: courtesy of Death Penalty Information Center (Click on graphic to see its annual report.)


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