A panel of legal experts is calling for a temporary halt to executions in Kentucky. The two year study, backed by the American Bar Association, finds “serious” concerns about how Kentucky imposes the death penalty.
The review of Kentucky’s capital punishment process was conducted by former state Supreme Court justices, attorneys and law professors. The 400-plus page report raises red flags about the fairness and accuracy of how Kentucky imposes the death penalty.
The “troubling” findings include high cases loads and low pay for public defenders; lost or missing evidence limiting post conviction DNA testing; inadequate instructions for jurors; high error rates at trial.
"What we really want is for the courts and the actors in the criminal justice system to get it right the first time, “said Michael Mannheimer, co-chair of the death penalty assessment team. ."
Kentucky is one of 35 states where the death penalty is legal. Since it was re instituted in 1976 78 people have been sentenced to death. 50 of those death penalty convictions have been overturned. Three men have been executed. 35 people are currently on death row.
In a written statement Governor Steve Beshear said he will “carefully review and study” the report. He noted that a court ordered stay currently prevents him from “implementing execution protocol.”
The state’s chief public defender, Ed Monahan, said he supports the call for a moratorium on executions. He has sent a request to Beshear asking that he not sign any execution warrants until the reforms called for in the study are implemented.
Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice, John Minton Jr., attended the public release of the findings Wednesday morning at the state capitol. He picked up seven copies of the thick report to give to the other six justices on the state’s high court. He said he was pleased the report noted that Kentucky has made progress in dealing with the death penalty and has done a good job beyond the trial level of reviewing cases.
"If there are matters that are within the prevue of the court to address we will discuss further and decide what needs to be done from there,” Minton told ABC 36 News.
Kentucky is the ninth state to undergo a death penalty assessment, a project of the American Bar Association. "When a person's life is at stake the guarantees of fairness and due process are absolutely paramount,” said Bill Robinson, ABA President.
Six of the nine reviews have lead to a call for states to temporarily halt executions.