Lawyers Allege Flaws, Press Moratorium on Death Penalty in Kentucky

Thursday, 08 Dec 2011 11:53 AM

By Greg McDonald

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The American Bar Association (ABA) is recommending that Kentucky impose a temporary moratorium on death penalty cases until it can implement new safeguards to prevent the execution of the innocent, according to a report Thursday in the Louisville Courier-Journal.

The ABA said in 520-page analysis compiled by a panel of lawyers, judges, and law professors that the state's death penalty statutes and procedures for executions don’t “sufficiently protect the innocent, convict the guilty and ensure the fair and efficient enforcement of criminal law.”

The analysis, based on a two-year study, noted that Kentucky has made substantial progress to ensure that death penalty defendants are adequately represented. But the Courier-Journal article noted that weaknesses remain in the system that could lead to someone being wrongfully put to death.

The weaknesses include the failure of some police departments to follow nationally recommended identification and interrogation procedures; failure to keep evidence for later DNA testing; and failure to ensure that all 57 of Kentucky's commonwealth's attorneys apply the death penalty in a fair and non-discriminatory way, the newspaper noted.

The ABA analysis outlined more than two dozen possible reforms and stressed that stopping executions temporarily would allow time to resolve the problems in the system. According to the Courier-Journal, the ABA panel pointed out that 52 of the 78 cases prosecuted under the death penalty since it was reinstated nationally in 1976 had their sentences reversed on appeal or had been granted clemency because of breakdowns in the current system. At least 10 of the 78, the paper noted, had also been represented by lawyers that were later disbarred.

The state now has 34 people on death row, but has executed only three under the capital punishment law since 1976.

Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway disagreed with the ABA panel’s findings, telling the Courier-Journal that it “disregards trial verdicts, years of judicial review and the surviving family members of victims.”

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