A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Momentum continues building across party lines to abolish the death penalty in Kentucky

By Nadia Ramlagan
Public News Service

Thirty lawmakers from all sides of the political spectrum are co-sponsoring a bill to abolish the death penalty in Kentucky.

While House Bill 115 languishes in the House Judiciary Committee, supporters say the high number of sponsors indicates views on capital punishment in the state are shifting. Aaron Bentley is chair of the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and the grandson of a murder victim.

A 2016 poll found that about 70 percent of Kentuckians agree the capital-punishment system risks executing the innocent. (Photo from @annie29/Twenty20, via PNS)

“In Kentucky, we haven’t had an execution since 2008, no one has been added to death row since 2010, Kentucky juries are moving away from death, the country is moving away from death, our standards of decency have evolved to the point that we don’t think it’s needed,” says Bentley.

A 2011 report released by the American Bar Association analyzed death-penalty cases in Kentucky and found serious problems related to due process for individuals on death row. The report also found more than 60 percent of death-penalty sentences have been overturned on appeal by Kentucky or federal courts.

Bentley says prosecuting death-penalty cases is expensive. He says it’s been estimated that death-penalty prosecutions cost the state roughly $10 million per year, and that cost and flaws in the legal system are pushing many states away from the death penalty.

“The number of states and counties that still actually execute people is much lower than the 30 states that still technically have the death penalty,” says Bentley. “Four states largely carry out most executions.”

Those opposed to ending capital punishment say perpetrators of heinous crimes should not be exempt from being sentenced to death.

Three people have been executed in Kentucky since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976. Two of those cases involved inmates who dropped their appeals and agreed to be executed.

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