death penalty

Tennessee Dept. of Correction

A new national report on racial disparities in the death penalty explores two high-profile cases that are winding their way through the courts here in Tennessee. The analysis, published Tuesday by the Death Penalty Information Center, highlights the ways Black people are more likely to be discriminated against at every step — from arrest to jury selection to execution.

The report says Shelby County prosecutors used racial tropes to paint Pervis Payne as a drug user “looking for sex.” And in Nashville, the district attorney struck Black people from the jury in Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman’s case.

Researcher Ngozi Ndulue says these cases show how systemic racism stacks the odds against Black people who have been accused of capital crimes.

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The Kentucky Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday over whether 18 to 21 year-olds should receive the death penalty. This was during a special hearing in Somerset intended to educate people about the court’s role in state government.

The arguments stemmed from two cases in Lexington, where a judge ruled that the death penalty could not be imposed, citing scientific evidence that people in the age group can’t yet fully control their impulses.

Matthew Krygiel, an assistant state attorney general, argued that Fayette Circuit Court Judge Ernesto Scorsone “abused his power” by ruling that the age group should be exempt from the death penalty.

 


Tennessee Inmate Asks for Electrocution After Court Ruling

Oct 9, 2018
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A Tennessee inmate set to be executed this week is asking the state to die by electric chair over lethal injection, calling the move the "lesser of two evils."

Attorney Kelley Henry confirmed Monday that Edmund Zagorski made the request roughly two hours before the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled the state's three-drug lethal injection protocol is constitutional. The decision paved the way for the execution of Zagorski on Thursday.

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Death penalty supporters and opponents both say that Kentucky’s capital punishment system is too expensive, lengthy and in need of reform.

Kentucky has had a moratorium on the death penalty since 2010, but state prosecutors still pursue capital punishment in more than 50 cases every year.

During a legislative hearing on Friday, Louisville Republican Rep. Jason Nemes said that the death penalty needs to be sought only in the most extreme circumstances.

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The Kentucky Supreme Court has ruled that part of Kentucky’s death law in unconstitutional.

The decision stems from a case involving a man convicted of murdering a Muhlenberg County teenager 20 years ago.

Robert Keith Woodall was sentenced to death after pleading guilty to viciously attacking 16-year-old Sarah Hansen, raping her, and then dumping her body in a freezing lake where she drowned.

The Death Penalty In Kentucky: Stayed And Uncertain

Aug 12, 2016
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The mention of “death row” conjures images of inmates pacing in their cells, awaiting executions. But in Kentucky, defendants have little reason to fear the needle.

Most, if not all, of the state’s death row residents will never see the execution chamber.

Lengthy appeals and a shortage of lethal injection drugs mean Kentucky’s death row inmates remain in prison indefinitely. And even if inmates want to be executed, the state’s court system would not allow it.

While this delicate death deliberation plays out, millions of public dollars are spent each year to sentence defendants to death, though legislators, criminal justice experts and others know such a sentence is mostly futile.

This process plays out as the United States continues to grapple with capital punishment amid a sea change of sorts. Executions across the country reached a 24-year low in 2015. Legislators in several states, including Kentucky, are considering bills to repeal the practice. Polls show public support of the death penalty is waning, wrongful convictions are in the national conversation and lethal injection drugs are under heavy scrutiny.

LRC Public Information

After decades of defending capital punishment, some conservative Republicans are walking away from the death penalty.

In Kentucky, lawmakers such as Rep. David Floyd, a Nelson County Republican, now oppose executions on grounds of fiscal responsibility and pro-life values.

For Floyd and others, the decision pits two traditional Republican planks against each other: a tough-on-crime, law-and-order platform versus a conservative fiscal approach.

In red states both big and small, bills to abolish the death penalty are becoming more common.

“There’s been a complete change of discussion nationally,” said Marc Hyden, the national advocacy coordinator for Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. “These are some very strong feelings of fiscal responsibility and pro-life views.”

Floyd’s bill to abolish the state’s death penalty has never made it past committee, but there are signs that more Republican support could help turn the tide in their favor.

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A new poll shows Kentuckians overwhelmingly support prison time over capital punishment for people convicted of first-degree murder.

Findings from a recent poll by the University of Kentucky Survey Research Center show nearly 58 percent of people surveyed believe that lengthy prison terms, including life without parole, are preferable to the death penalty as punishment for conviction of first-degree murder.

Kentuckians also overwhelmingly support a halt to executions until problems with the state’s capital punishment system are addressed, according to the survey. More than 72 percent said they would support a decision by the governor to block executions until issues with the system could be addressed.

“It is important to note that this new poll shows that Kentuckians are increasingly concerned about the fairness of our criminal justice system,” said Marcia Milby Ridings, former president of the Kentucky Bar Association, in a news release.

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After years of efforts, a bill that would abolish the death penalty in Kentucky received its first legislative hearing on Wednesday, but it failed to advance the House Judiciary Committee by one vote.

The bill would have replaced the death penalty with life without parole.

“We have tried to perfect the system, but human beings are flawed and we make mistakes,” said Rep. David Floyd, a Republican from Bardstown and the bill’s sponsor. “When the state imposes a death penalty it will never be perfect, it never will be so and we have to acknowledge that.”

Kentucky has executed three people since it reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Joe Gutmann, a former assistant commonwealth’s attorney in Jefferson County, said he used to argue capital punishment cases but lost faith in the process.

“The fact that an innocent person could have been killed in carrying out a death sentence proves the stakes being so irrevocably high that our law must be changed,” Gutmann said.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 156 people sentenced to death in America since 1973 have been acquitted, had charges dismissed or pardoned.

About two-thirds of Kentuckians support capital punishment, according to a Bluegrass Poll from 2013.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed today to review Oklahoma's method of execution by lethal injection. The justices agreed to hear the Oklahoma case a week after refusing to halt another execution that used the same drug formula.

Kentucky Latest State to Renew Debate Over Death Penalty

Aug 13, 2014
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Allen Ault admits to being a murderer.

But Ault isn’t behind bars, nor was he tried for his “crimes." He’s currently dean of Criminal Justice Studies at Eastern Kentucky University. But as Ault told an interim joint committee on the judiciary earlier this month, he considers his actions as a director of corrections akin to premeditated murder.

“I have murdered five people as an agent of the state,” he said.

Ault said that many of his former colleagues have committed suicide or retreated into drugs to cope with their actions

“Corrections officials are expected to commit the most premeditated murder possible,” he said. “I mean, I had a policy book that thick. We rehearsed it. How premeditated could it be?”

Debate Over Kentucky Executions Begins Again

Aug 1, 2014

Kentucky lawmakers are set to embark on a discussion of whether executions should have a place in Kentucky's criminal justice system and, if so, how should it be carried out. The Joint Legislative Committee hearing set for Friday morning in Paducah comes amid the backdrop of a spate of botched executions around the country this year.

Kentucky is a long way from becoming the rare southern state without capital punishment. Friday's meeting can't set policies or make official recommendations. Efforts to repeal the death penalty haven't gotten off the ground in recent attempts in the general assembly.

The public hearing, however, is the first of its kind since Kentucky reinstated the death penalty in 1975, a four decade stretch during which the state has executed three men, with 34 more people on death row.

Kentucky LRC

State Sen. Gerald Neal, a Democrat from Louisville, plans to introduce a bill in January to abolish the death penalty.

It’s legislation Neal has brought to Frankfort before. He tells the Messenger-Inquirer objections to the death penalty come from many different angles – including religious and constitutional concerns.  But he approaches it on a cost basis, arguing life in prison costs Kentucky less money and achieves the same objective of removing the offender from society.

A legislative committee on judicial issues is set to meet Friday in Paducah, and is expected to discuss the death penalty.

Judge Concerned About 1-Drug Execution Method

Jul 9, 2014

A Kentucky judge has expressed concerns about the state's plan to use a single drug to carry out lethal injections after the same method resulted in problems in neighboring Ohio.

The issues raised Wednesday by Franklin County Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd could further delay Kentucky's ability to carry out death sentences and prolong the decade-long legal fight over how the state puts condemned inmates to death.

Shepherd told attorneys during a brief hearing in Frankfort that he may set a hearing about the state's proposal but didn't immediately set a date.

Ohio inmate Dennis McGuire repeatedly gasped and snorted and took 26 minutes to die during an execution in January.

Kentucky is seeking to implement both one- and two-drug lethal injection methods. Shepherd halted all executions in the state in 2010.

Tennessee's governor has signed a bill that would allow the state to use the electric chair if lethal injection drugs are unavailable.

A spokesman for Republican Gov. Bill Haslam confirmed to The Associated Press that the legislation had been signed after passing the state Senate by a 23-3 vote and the House by a 68-13 margin.

The AP reports:

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