Bar asks Kentucky to suspend executions

By Lauren Hallow Published:

The American Bar Association is asking Kentucky to temporarily suspend executions, citing errors and inconsistencies in how the state deals with cases involving capital punishment.

In a two-year study released today, the ABA’s Kentucky Assessment Team on the Death Penalty found that of the last 78 inmates sentenced to death in Kentucky, 50 had their sentences overturned on appeals, and 10 were represented by a defense attorney who was later disbarred.

The team also found that once a person is incarcerated, police are no longer required to keep evidence in the case, which has prevented post-conviction DNA testing for a number of death row inmates because of missing evidence.  

The eight-person team was made up of attorneys, law school professors and former Kentucky state Supreme Court justices.

The study said several parts of Kentucky’s death penalty system fall short in providing capital case defendants fair and accurate procedures and does not minimize the risk of executing the innocent.

Because the project was funded by the ABA and not by state or federal dollars, the team can only make a recommendation to the state, which is not required to act on it.

Similar assessment teams were also established in 2006 and 2007 for Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. The death penalty remains in effect for all of those states – despite recommendations for a suspension of executions in more than half of those studied by the ABA.

The study gave several recommendations on how to improve the death sentencing process in Kentucky, including an order to preserve biological evidence in capital cases, revising jury instructions for capital cases and providing additional funding to defense attorneys representing a capital defendant so their rates reflect the complexity and amount of work in a death penalty case.

There are currently 35 inmates on Kentucky’s death row. The last execution in Kentucky was Marco Chapman by lethal injection in 2008.

Capital punishment is currently legal in 34 states.

The team scheduled a press conference today to explain its findings. To learn more about the report, visit www.americanbar.org.

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