Op-Ed

Why the death penalty is a bad deal for Kentucky

McClatchy-Tribune

Few people have given much thought to capital punishment. I confess that I hadn’t either until, 20 years ago, I focused on the matter through a spiritual lens — and changed my position from supporter to opponent.

As a state legislator, I sponsored bills to abolish Kentucky’s death penalty.

The path to abolition is steep and formidable — liberals tend to be allies, conservatives historically have supported the death penalty. Since Kentucky’s General Assembly is now overwhelmingly conservative, how can we hope that the death penalty will be abolished and replaced with life without the possibility of parole?

We can hope because support for abolition is increasing, and not just as a result of spiritual insight. There are many reasons for both conservatives and liberals to abandon our death penalty system.

Mistakes can be made in a government program run by human beings, and mistakes have been made with the death penalty. Innocent people can and have been executed.

There is no right way to do the wrong thing. Clearly, everyone should agree that it’s not worth sacrificing the innocent to kill the guilty. No one who values innocent life supports a state government program that can kill innocent people.

And, although it is counter-intuitive, taxpayers spend far more money on our system of capital punishment than we would if the death penalty were not an option.

Every study conducted in the United States has concluded that the death penalty system is far more costly than a criminal-justice system in which the maximum sentence is life without the possibility of parole.

Since 1976, Kentucky has prosecuted hundreds of capital cases, 97 of which resulted in a sentence of death. Of those, 51 have been reversed on appeal, in post-conviction or through clemency. Thirty-five sentences related to 32 inmates are presently under challenge.

Of the 97 cases, eight ended with the inmate’s death of natural causes, while only three ended in the inmates’ execution.

So, the majority of death penalty cases are reversed on appeal, while taxpayers foot the entire bill for the cost of the trial and all appeals. Usually, the case results in a plea bargain that does not include execution — defeating the purpose of pursuing the death penalty in the first place.

Why is the death penalty a bad investment for Kentucky? After spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the death penalty since 1976, we are left with the following results:

▪ The majority of those sentenced to death in Kentucky had their death sentences reversed by the courts.

▪ In the majority of cases in which the death penalty was sought, judges and juries imposed sentences other than death.

▪ Only 3 percent of those sentenced to death actually die from execution.

Lady Justice is usually depicted wearing a blindfold, signifying objectivity. There should be no favor in meting out justice, no regard for power or weakness, money, or position. But the truth is, our death penalty doesn’t meet this standard.

Most Kentucky counties don’t use it. Two murders committed under similar circumstances in bordering counties can result in two completely different sentences. To make matters worse, people of color and those in poverty are disproportionately sentenced to death rather than to life in prison.

Something is terribly wrong.

Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, has introduced House Bill 251. And Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, has introduced Senate Bill 131 with Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, as the primary cosponsor.

Both bills propose to limit the maximum punishment in Kentucky to life without the possibility of parole. Please call your representative and senator today and ask them to support abolition.

David Floyd, of Bardstown, is a retired Air Force officer who served six terms in the Kentucky House.

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