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Kentucky House Votes To Ban Death Penalty For Severely Mentally Ill

J. Tyler Franklin

The Kentucky House of Representatives passed a bill Monday banning the death penalty for people with some severe mental illnesses.

House Bill 148 would ban the death penalty if, at the time of the offense, a defendant has a documented history of one of five mental illnesses.

Rep. Chad McCoy, a Republican from Bardstown and sponsor of the bill, said those convicted of capital offenses would still be punished, but under the bill, the death penalty wouldn’t be available for some.

“This is not an insanity defense, not taking away that. They will go to jail for life without the possibility of parole. We’re just removing the death penalty for this small segment,” McCoy said.

The mental illnesses included in the list of exemptions are schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder or delusional disorder.

McCoy said the bill would only affect trials that begin after the bill is passed.

In 2018, the state Supreme Court struck down Kentucky’s law that exempted people with an IQ below 70 from the death penalty.

The court ruled that judges have to assess whether defendants are able to learn basic skills or adjust their behavior in order to sentence them to death, independent of the IQ test.

Kentucky pursues dozens of capital cases every year but executes relatively few people.

The state has executed three people since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

The House passed the bill 75-16 on Monday night, and now heads to the Senate.


Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Email Ryland at
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