In June 2014, Joe Sonka, writing for LEO Weekly, reported that two recent executions in Ohio and Oklahoma that turned gruesome “touched off a renewed debate over the death penalty system in America.”
Four years earlier, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd ordered a stop to executions in Kentucky until a new state protocol (regulations regarding killing inmates) could be developed and approved. He was responding to motions filed by attorneys of several death row inmates that the state’s protocol was illegally put in place and the judge agreed.
After the Department of Corrections revised its protocol and held the public hearing required by law, defense lawyers again challenged the state in 2012. In that new protocol the state said it would use two drugs, one being midazolam, the same drug Ohio and Oklahoma use during the botched executions.
Defense attorneys argued that the drugs themselves and the method of administering them violated provisions of the U. S. Constitution.
By July 2014, Judge Shepherd said that “he had concern about issues surrounding the recent botched executions and signaled that it might be the time to revisit Kentucky’s lethal injection method due to changing circumstances,” wrote Sonka for Insider Louisville. Shepherd ruled the suit could go forward.
Sonka reports that one attorney for the defendants said, “Judge Shepherd has recognized the significance of the highly botched executions that have become a routine occurrence in the country, particularly when midazolam (a sedative) is used in an execution, and has decided that these claims need to proceed forward and go to trial with full transparency in Kentucky of what the Department of Corrections is doing, plans to do, and why they are doing it, and the means that are leading to so many botched executions.”
After this July ruling, Arizona botched an execution using these same drugs which U. S. Sen. John McCain described as “torture.”
In September Judge Shepherd said that defense attorneys could use these botched executions at trial in their lawsuit. Subsequently, in November 2014, according to Sonka in another article in Insider Louisville, the Kentucky Department of Corrections told the court it planned to “make changes to the administrative regulations that include, but are not limited to, the elimination of the current two drug execution protocol as adopted in 2012.”
The Department said it would “take six months to review and research potential changes to its lethal injection protocol.”
Seven months have almost lapsed since the Department withdrew its proposed regulations and no new protocol has been publicly revealed. KCADP awaits a new proposal and publishes this post because quite a few persons recently wanted to know where we are with executions in Kentucky.
Still on hold and awaiting the next proposal by the state.
Meanwhile since June 2014, new milestones toward abolition have been reached:
- Democrat State Sen. Gerald Neal and Republican State Representative David Floyd filed bi-partisan legislation to repeal the death penalty in Kentucky;
- lawmakers in the state of Nebraska repealed the death penalty in May 2015;
- the number of former death row inmates released because they were wrongfully convicted has risen to 154;
- a June 1 2015 Quinnipiac nationwide poll shows “that more Americans prefer life without parole (48%) than the death penalty (43%) for people convicted of murder. Since Quinnipiac last asked the question in 2013, support for life without parole has risen by five percentage points and dropped for the death penalty by five points;
- Henry McCollum, a man identified by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as the reason the death penalty exists, is one of those 154 persons. He was released after 30 years in jail, 8 of them on death row, shown by DNA evidence to be innocent. In June 2015 North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory granted him a pardon; and
- the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists has adopted a resolution opposing the participation of pharmacists in executions by providing drugs to states for that purpose.
The countdown continues, but it is only a question of when, not if, the death penalty in Kentucky is repealed.
Graphic art: Rare Newspapers
Photo: Office of the Lexington Fayette Commonwealth’s Attorney