What is the future of the death penalty in Kentucky?

Republished from WEKU.

There are topics that generate much debate and sometimes emotional commentary. One is abortion, which has been that kind of topic in Frankfort in recent years. There’s another that has not been formally debated but often carries a strong reaction as well.

The death penalty is legal in Kentucky and has been since it was reinstated nationally in 1976. A court ruling in 2010 put an indefinite pause on capital punishment in Kentucky.

Bills to abolish the death penalty in the Commonwealth have been common for many years. One of those in the just-completed legislative session came from Leitchfield GOP Senator Stephen Meredith who made an impassioned floor speech on a Friday in early February.

“I’d ask you this weekend. I’m not asking for your vote on this bill. I’m asking for your heart…..Could you be the one to flip that switch to kill someone on death row,” said Meredith.

Meredith went on to say, if not, how can you allow someone else to do that? The retired hospital administrator said his pro-life beliefs extend to all life. And he questioned government spending for military offensive measures.

“You know we see nations struggling to feed their citizens, provide basic health care, to provide them education. And the challenge always is…not enough money. But, yet we’re willing to spend trillions upon trillions of dollars killing each other,” said Meredith.

No one else in the Senate spoke on the death penalty after Meredith’s comments. Louisville Democratic Senator David Yates also filed legislation to abolish the death penalty.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer holds a strong belief in the death penalty as an option, saying if employed more often it could act more as a deterrent.

“I also think it’s an appropriate punishment. So, I’m not part of this movement to abolish it. I’m for implementing it more than we have for the last 30 years,” said Thayer.

Another staunch supporter of the death penalty is Republican State Senator John Schickel of Union. He said a bill to do away with capital punishment in Kentucky may be just a few years away.

“Well I support the death penalty and I’m disappointed by that, but I’m also a realists and I see the trend in that direction,” said Schickel.

Schickel and Thayer are both leaving the Kentucky Senate at the end of this year. Thayer said he doesn’t think there’s a lot of momentum currently for abolishing the penalty.

Longtime Public Defender Ed Monahan

Ed Monahan

Longtime Public Defender Ed Monahan

Someone who has a great deal of knowledge regarding Capital Punishment in Kentucky is Ed Monahan, who has been a public defender for nearly four decades. The Lexington attorney said his first Capital case was in 1978 as an appellate lawyer. He’s directly represented about a dozen clients. Monahan said Kentucky and other states with the death penalty have something in common with some other counties.

“Death is a sentence not used in civilized countries around the world, except for the United States and we’re in the same company as countries like Iran and China and Russia, so at some point history will see this eliminated,” said Monahan.

Monahan says part of the issue is the fair administration of death as a penalty. He says a 2009 study by a review panel made 93 recommendations on capital punishment with very few implemented. Monahan says it’s just not something that can be fixed. The defense attorney said studies of death penalty juries indicate that nearly half don’t understand jury instructions, especially in the area of mitigation.

“If you have jurors who don’t fully comprehend jury instructions how can you say we’re administering the death penalty fairly?”

And then there’s public polling. Monahan said when given options, there is more public support for life without parole over a death sentence.

There are a number of aggravating circumstances when capital punishment is an option. Those include killing more than one person, murder during the commission of robbery or rape, or killing a police officer.

Fayette County Commonwealth’s Attorney Kimberly Baird has worked in criminal prosecution in Lexington for 28 years. She says some prosecutors have a policy of seeking the death penalty every time it is an eligible sentence to avoid any perception of picking and choosing cases. Baird’s not convinced those committing violent crimes think of the possible consequences.

“Generally I don’t think people think that jurors are going to give it to them and number two you might get death but 20 years later you still haven’t been executed, so it’s probably stressful, but I don’t think anybody thinks let me no kill this person in the course of because I’m gonna get the death penalty,” said Baird.

When it comes to cost, Baird says the Commonwealth doesn’t chalk up additional expenses to speak of. She says that often comes with hired expert witnesses for the defense. And then there are incarceration costs over years and years.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney says capital punishment in Fayette County has almost “abolished itself.” And Baird says she’s given it as an option for a jury but adds she’s not sure she’s ever told them to impose it.

“There’s appeals and appeal on appeals and there’s effective assistance of counsel and then there’s because it’s cruel and motions and let me try him again and then you go on with dealing with federal stuff, it just doesn’t end. And I don’t want to have to keep calling these victims 20 years later and say, I know you don’t remember me or I know you thought this was done, however, it just doesn’t end,” said Ba

Kentucky’s law prohibits the execution of the intellectually disabled, the severely mentally ill, and juveniles. Currently, in the commonwealth, there are 26 people on death row. That includes the longest time on death row, Gene White sentenced to death in March of 1980. The last execution by lethal injection was Marco Chapman in 2008.

Here’s the interview with Fayette Commonwealth’s Attorney Kimberly Baird:


Listen 17:52

Here’s the interview with Lexington Defense Attorney Ed Monahan:


Listen 16:17

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Originally published by WEKU.

Republished with permission.