Saturday, December 10, 2011

ABA: Kentucky's Death Penalty Flawed

Moratorium Project Examining Death Penalty Laws Nationwide
An American Bar Association study released this week said that Kentucky's death penalty is seriously flawed and that executions in the state need to be halted until lawmakers and others correct problems cited in the study, reported the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The study is part of the ABA Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project. From 2003 to 2007, the Moratorium Project undertook its first series of assessments on the administration of capital punishment in eight U.S. states--Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Arizona, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and Florida.  The series includes Kentucky and Missouri.  The "study" in each state has found flaws and demanded as the title of the studies imply--a moratorium on the death penalty.

The problems in Kentucky include a lack of protections against executing seriously mentally ill people; high case loads and low pay for public defenders who represent people accused of capital crimes; no rule to preserve evidence for as long as someone is in prison, meaning they might miss a chance for DNA tests that could exonerate them; and confusion among jurors about their role in deciding whether to recommend a death sentence.

According to the Herald-Leader, the study found that of the 78 people sentenced to death in Kentucky since 1976, 52 later had that initial sentence overturned because of errors at the trial.

Attorney General Jack Conway said in a statement that he disagreed that the state's legal system is broken. Conway said prosecutors carefully consider which people they'll seek a death sentence for. He said trial judges make sure defendants' rights are protected, juries take their job seriously, and appeals courts look over the cases carefully for errors, reported the Herald-Leader.

"I am reviewing it carefully," he said of the report, "but I do not at first glance believe its analysis warrants a suspension of the death penalty."

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