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KCADP SUPPORTS PROTESTS SEEKING POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY

Those who hold others accountable must be held accountable. Too often there is a culture within law enforcement that diminishes transparency and accountability, while demanding accountability from those law enforcement is charged with protecting and serving.

Elected city, county and state leaders must restore this balance by abolishing the death penalty, reforming sentencing practices, establishing police civilian review boards to hold rogue officers responsible, revising the training that police currently receive and bringing a new level of responsibility and transparency to policing in communities across the Commonwealth.

While these efforts reach beyond death penalty abolition, they nonetheless play a role in the criminal justice system that too often ends in government-sanctioned executions. In the early years of our existence, KCADP grappled with requests to support issues other than abolition. The Board decided that our narrow focus – to abolish the death penalty – allowed us to endorse only those policy issues that directly impact citizens being sentenced to death.

For example, KCADP joined other Louisville organizations that were calling for a Police Citizen Review Board to hold police accountable for their behavior, especially in the Black community. That effort, led by the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression, failed.

Recent events cause us to consider again the people’s demands for racial justice and accountability for police when they engage in racist behavior. This behavior can be the beginning of the process in which innocent people are convicted, imprisoned, and sometimes sentenced to death.

As of July 31, 2020 the National Registry of Exonerations reports that there have been 2,653 exonerations since 1989. On March 7, 2017, the Registry reported:  “Most innocent defendants who have been exonerated in the United States in the past 28 years are African Americans—almost half of the nearly 2,000 individual exonerations that we know about.”

The Registry further reported that in the years 2017 – 2019 “Official Misconduct” contributed to the conviction of 284 defendants, 65% of those exonerated in those three years.

This can have grave consequences beyond depriving someone of freedom by unjustly locking them up for years. In a society that executes its citizens, official misconduct committed by police or prosecutors can also result in the taking of innocent human life.

The Death Penalty Information Center maintains a database of the 170 people who have been exonerated after being wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. Official misconduct is cited in 43 of the 170 cases as a cause for the conviction and death sentences these defendants received. Of these 43 cases, 56% (24) are identified as Black; if those identified as Latino are included, then the percentage of exonerated persons of color condemned to death due to official misconduct rises to 65% (28).

In Kentucky, the Department of Public Advocacy’s Kentucky Innocence Project has worked hard to establish the innocence of several Kentucky prisoners. This webpage –https://dpa.ky.gov/who_we_are/KIP/Pages/Exonerations.aspx – lists twenty “success” stories.

Official misconduct was cited as cause for the conviction in six of these 20 cases. Nearly one-third of those exonerated were victims of police and other official misconduct.

Of these six persons, two are Black, one-third of the total of wrongfully convicted persons in a state whose Black population is seven percent. We cannot estimate how many Black people and other people of color are currently incarcerated, or have been executed, for crimes they did not commit.

KCADP concludes that race is often a deciding factor in the conviction, incarceration and sentencing to long prison terms, and even death, of defendants facing trial. Long before trial, misconduct by police and prosecutors has an impact on trial outcomes.

Thus, KCADP must add its voice to the current protests by Black Lives Matter and others who are demanding new ways of policing, new instruments by which the police will be held accountable in Kentucky, and transparency throughout the criminal justice system.

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Kentuckians reject death penalty when they know the options and its cost

The results of a Gallup poll conducted in October 2019 mirror the results of polling done in Kentucky in December 2018. This recent Gallup poll found for the first time that a majority of Americans say life imprisonment is a better punishment for murder than the death penalty by 60% to 36%.

Eddyville: Kentucky State Penitentiary

In December 2018 Mason-Dixon Polling and Strategy, Inc., conducted a statewide, telephone poll of 625 registered Kentucky voters.

Those interviewed were randomly selected from a phone-matched Kentucky voter registration list that included both land-line and cell phone numbers. Quotas were assigned to reflect voter registration by county.

The margin for error is no more than ±4 percentage points.

Kentuckians were given the 5 possible penalties now available under Kentucky law for someone charged with an aggravated murder, making one eligible for the death penalty. Below is the question and the results of the polling.

QUESTION: Which of the following punishments do you personally think is MOST appropriate for persons convicted of aggravated murder in Kentucky:

  • The death penalty
  • Life in prison with no chance of parole
  • Life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years
  • Life in prison with no chance of parole for 20 years
  • A sentence of 20-50 years with a chance for parole after serving 85% of the sentence

Only 38% claim the death penalty as the most appropriate penalty for aggravated murder cases. 57% of respondents believe lengthy prison terms are the most appropriate penalty for aggravated murderers.

In another follow-up question 53% said they would support “replacing the death penalty with a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole” after they were told of the substantially higher costs of sentencing prisoners to death versus life without the possibility of parole.

Nationally and in Kentucky, voters and taxpayers believe prison is the best alternative to punishing violent murderers. We will continue to push for the reduction of the use of the death penalty and its eventual abolition.

These two polls confirm what Kentuckians have been telling pollsters since 1989. In the past thirty years polls commissioned by Amnesty International and conducted by the University of Kentucky have all found Kentuckians, when given a choice, choose life over death. It is time for legislators to do the same and support legislation that limits or eliminates the death penalty.

Photo: Pat Delahanty for River Birch Productions

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Death Penalty Abolished in New Hampshire

Renny Cushing in Louisville, 2010

State Representative Renny Cushing, founder of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, was the leader of an effort that ended with the abolition of the death penalty in New Hampshire on Thursday, May 30, 2019.

The bill, after passage in both chambers, was vetoed by the governor. Last week the NH House overrode his veto and today so did the Senate. The bill establishes life without parole as the severest penalty for capital murder in New Hampshire.

The Kentucky Coalition congratulates all those who worked with the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty to make this the 21st state abolishing the death penalty.

Barbara Keshen, a former NH Assistant Attorney General and Chair of the NH Coalition said, “We are deeply grateful to the bipartisan group of senators who stood firm and again cast their vote to end capital punishment in our state. Like the majority of their House colleagues, they agreed that capital punishment is inhumane, unfair, error prone, and costly,”

KCADP will continue its campaign to abolish the death penalty in Kentucky and takes heart from this victory that we will see it happen here. We certainly encourage all Kentuckians reading this to contact their Kentucky State Senators and State Representatives and urge them to abolish the death penalty in the 2020 legislative session that begins next January. You can reach them by calling 1.800.372.7181 and leaving your message.

Photo: Courtesy Pat Delahanty, Riverbirch Productions

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Senate Bill 17 clears committee and heads for floor vote

Senator Julie Raque Adams sponsored SB 17, to exclude certain severely mentally ill persons from execution. That bill received a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 7 and members voted to support it 7 – 3 with one member absent.

Supporting the bill were Senators Kerr, Neal, Seum, Stivers, West, Westerfield and Webb. Opposing the bill were Senators D. Carroll, Schickel and Schroder who is also running to become Attorney General. If your senator is one who supported the bill please thank him or her for helping move this bill to the floor for a vote.

The next hurdle is getting a vote in the full Senate. We certainly encourage members to call 800.372.7181 and let their state senators know that you want them to bring the bill to the floor for a vote and to vote Yes for the bill.

Highlights of what the bill does and does not do:

  • It does not provide that everyone who has a mental illness should be exempt from capital punishment, but rather considers the degree and type of mental illness and how it contributed to the capital crime
  • It only applies to those defendants whose trials commence after enactment of the legislation
  • It specifically excludes from the exemption those diagnosed with conditions that are manifested primarily by repeated criminal conduct or attributable solely to the acute effects of the voluntary use of alcohol or other drugs
  • Unlike the insanity defense, the proposed bill only takes the penalty of death off the table, and so protection of society through incapacitation is unimpaired
  • Life without parole remains a sentence for those who are found seriously mentally ill.

You can read the full text of the bill here.

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Abolition bill sponsor, Rep. Chad McCoy, featured in national news story

Red states move to end death penalty headlines an article in The Hill featuring State Representative Chad McCoy because he sponsored House Bill 115 to abolish the death penalty in Kentucky.

McCoy told The Hill that the expense of the death penalty is his motive for filing the bill.


“When you talk about death penalty, a lot of people immediately want to have a criminal justice angle on it or a morality angle. And mine is purely economics,” McCoy said in an interview.
 
Those on death row “have cost us an inordinate amount of money, and if we just went with life without parole, we would save the state millions and millions of dollars,” he added.

McCoy goes on to describe how he hopes to achieve the goal.


McCoy said he is building a coalition of Catholic legislators who oppose the death penalty on moral grounds and traditional Republicans who see it as ineffective both in deterring crime and in keeping costs down.
 
“I’m a very pro-life person, and if you’re going to be pro-life, it would include these lives,” McCoy said. “I’m hoping we can at least get a vote.”


Abolition supporters should contact their Kentucky State Representatives and urge them to support House Bill 115 by adding their names to the bill as co-sponsors. Leave messages for your legislators at 1.800.372.7181.

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