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Fayette Circuit Court Judge Declares Death Penalty Unconstitutional for Persons Under 21

Fayette Commonwealth Attorney Lou Anna Red Corn

Judge Ernesto Scorsone has ruled in the case of Travis Bredhold that the Fayette County Commonwealth Attorney may not seek the death penalty because Bredhold was under the age of 21 when the crime for which he is charged took place. In Roper the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that persons under the age of 18 could not be executed. This decision applies only in Kentucky and extends that time period by several years.  Prosecutor Lou Anna Red Corn plans to appeal the decision.

Over the years a culture of death was created in the Fayette Circuit under former Commonwealth Attorney Ray Larson who said that those sentenced to death should be slain in the same way they committed their crimes. In Kentucky all the death sentences have come from very few of the 120 counties. When taking into account its population, Fayette County is Kentucky’s leader in seeking death. Fortunately, even jurors who have told the court they are willing to impose the death penalty have failed to do so for the past several years.

It appears that Fayette County jurors, like most Kentuckians, prefer long prison sentences, including life without parole, as the effective and less costly means of punishing violent killers. That should cause Lexington residents and taxpayers to ask why the Commonwealth Attorney’s office continues to ask juries to impose death, especially in cases where those charged are similar in age to Bredhold.

Below are links to news reports about this decision.

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A New Book About Movement Heroine: Marie Deans, A Courageous Fool

I don’t recall when I first met Marie Deans, but it was many years ago, late ’80s, early 90s, at some national death penalty meeting on the east coast. She spoke about her mother-in-law’s murder and her own opposition to putting her killer to death.

Hers was an amazing testimony for someone who had never heard this message from a victim family member. Marie founded what is now known as Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation and continued to work with prisoners. She was key in obtaining an exoneration for Earl Washington, wrongfully convicted and placed on death row.

Colman McCarthy writes in her obituary in The Washington Post:

Asked once why she involved herself in a field that attracts so few, Mrs. Deans replied: “I have the need to understand why we are so good at passing on violence and so poor at passing on love.”

This new book tells her whole story and deserves wide readership. Perhaps those who still think killing killers is the answer that brings justice to society and comfort to victims can learn from Marie that there is another way, “passing on love.” Click on the book jacket photo for more information about purchasing it.

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Death penalty series in Kentucky New Era highlights problems

As the General Assembly was finishing its last day, the Kentucky New Era was publishing the last of three articles about the death penalty in Kentucky. These reports highlighted problems with the administration of the death penalty; looked into its high costs, including the emotional cost to those involved with the killing, and explained why KCADP believes abolition in Kentucky is drawing nearer and nearer.

You can read the three articles by clicking here. This will require a PDF reader. The PDF files were supplied by the writer of the articles.

From the Monday-Tuesday, March 27-28, 2017 edition of the Kentucky New Era story “Is the death penalty a failing system”

“It can hardly be said that we are picking out the worst of the worst,” he said. “Instead it’s more random.”

Lewis asserted death sen- tences have more to do with geography and whether a particular prosecutor chooses to seek the death penalty and whether the county supports it.

“What ends up happening is … it’s reserved for the poor, for the mentally ill and minority groups,” he said.

From the Wednesday, March 29, 2017 edition of the Kentucky New Era story “Death penalty comes with a high price tag”

A May 2015 study from the Legislative Services Agency for the Indiana General Assembly concluded the average cost of a capital murder jury trial was $789,581 versus an average cost of $185,422 for a jury trial when life without parole was the goal of the prosecution. That’s nearly a 326 percent increase to sentence someone to death. A Duke University economist professor, Philip J. Cook, determined in a 2009 study that North Carolina would save $11 million a year by abolishing the death penalty. [Ernie] Lewis said he has testified at legislative hearings in Kentucky on the cost and believes the legal system in the state is spending $8 to $10 million on death penalty cases every year. He said he believes those numbers are close to accurate, but stressed they are based on the information he has available to him.

From the Friday, March 31, 2017 edition of the Kentucky New Era story “Death penalty not a partisan issu”

… However, Rev. Patrick Delahanty, chair and volunteer director of the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said he saw progress toward abolition, and that “it’s not a clear cut partisan issue.”

For the past two sessions, in the House, the sponsor of the bill to abolish the death penalty was a Republican, he said. This year, House Bill 251, sponsored by Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, sought to abolish the death penalty and replace it with life without parole for anyone currently sentenced to death.

“(HB 251) had 18 co-sponsors, which is the most we’ve ever gotten on an abolition bill,” Delahanty said.

Of the 18 people signed onto the bill, seven of  those, including Nemes, were Republicans.

Photo and graphics: Pat Delahanty

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Session ends on high note for Coalition

The members of the General Assembly have all gone home for now. For us the session was good. In the waning days we learned of  SB 186 sponsored by Sen. Max Wise and co-sponsored by Sen. Whitney Westerfield. This bill included provisions to increase the use of the death penalty in Kentucky, even for those who did not kill someone.

Fortunately, just as it was about to be brought to the Senate floor for a vote, we were able to raise enough concerns with Senators about its unconstitutionality and the cost of expansion. Sen. Wise asked that the bill be passed over and eventually it was sent to the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee where there was no further action. We expect to see a version of this back next year and will have another battle to stop it.

We had other successes. Both bills to abolish the death penalty had Republican and Democrat sponsors and co-sponsors. We were especially happy to have House Bill 251 sponsored by freshman Jason Nemes, a Republican representative from Jefferson County. He did really well lining up co-sponsors and setting a record high for us of 18 other House members, including 7 Republicans, adding their names to the bill. In the Senate, Republican Julie Raque Adams was the primary co-sponsor of Senate Bill 131 filed by our good friend Sen. Gerald Neal. You may click on the bill numbers to see the list of those who sponsored and co-sponsored these bills. If you live in their districts, we hope you contact them and thank them for their public support of abolition.

Each Wednesday, with the help of staff from our friends at the ACLU of Kentucky, we had meetings with legislators and their constituents, family members of murder victims, and a man wrongfully convicted who spent years in a Kentucky prison. Although we did not convince everyone we met with, we did have a significant impact. Some later co-sponsored the bill and several committed to voting YES for its passage. This work will continue.

We are grateful for all those who came over on Wednesdays to attend these meetings. We want to give a special shout out to the Quaker community whose legislative action team made several visits during the session to see their legislators.

Photo: Pat Delahanty

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Abolition bills filed in Ky. Senate and House: SB 131 & HB 251

Lawmakers in each of the chambers of the Kentucky General Assembly filed bills to abolish the death penalty on February 7. State Senator Gerald Neal and State Representative Jason Nemes, both of Louisville, are hoping to see Kentucky become the next in a string of states that have ended executions.

Public News Service-Ky (KNS) reports the following from an interview with Senator Neal:

Neal says while lawmakers often cite morality or the “broken system” for their opposition, it’s because of the cost of the death penalty that many lawmakers have “second thoughts…”

“In fact, find it not acceptable to pay for that process when they understand that it costs more to execute a person than it is to incarcerate them for life,” Neal said.

KNS reporter Greg Stotelmyer writes that Nemes said he wants to stand for life.

Nemes, a conservative lawmaker from Louisville, says his bill is “about the soul of Kentucky” and for him, “a matter of faith.”

“If I believe that Jesus wouldn’t do it, I don’t think my government ought to do it either and I understand there are differences,” he said.

Anticipating the filing of this legislation, former State Representative Bob Heleringer described his opposition to the death penalty in his monthly Courier-Journal column headlined Capital punishment must die:

Opposition to the death penalty does not equate to sympathy for convicted murderers. I’ve never participated in a candlelight vigil or shed any tears for the criminals sitting on death row. The truly guilty are where they deserve to be, at least in theory, never to be free again. No, the vigils and the tears belong exclusively to the victims and their grief-stricken families. But does killing the killers really honor the memories of those victims? What kind of example does that teach our children – that our reaction to the most pernicious act carried out by one human being upon another (the act of taking a life) is to take that person’s life? The more heinous the murderers — think Timothy McVeigh or Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev — the deeper our resolve should be that we must never descend to their level.

Supporters are reminded to call 1.800.372.7181 and leave a message asking their state lawmakers to co-sponsor and support both these bills. If you can come to Frankfort to visit your legislators on one or more of the remaining ABOLITION WEDNESDAYS please click here to sign up and select a date.

To read HB 251, click on the bill number. Co-sponsors include Reps. Addia Wuchner, Melinda Prunty and Diane St. Onge.

To read SB 131, click on the bill number. Co-sponsors include Senators Julie Raque Adams (primary co-sponsor), Perry Clark, Denise Harper-Angel and Reginald Thomas.

KCADP is grateful to all these legislators for their willingness to sponsors bills to abolish the death penalty and help create a more just and humane justice system in our Commonwealth.

Photos: Pat Delahanty (Sen. Neal) and the LRC public information office (Rep. Nemes)

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