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October 21, 2012

Kentucky Commission on Human Rights urges state abolition of death penalty

As reported in this local article, headlined "Human Rights Commission passes resolution to abolish death penalty in Kentucky," last week a state civil rights commission formally called for repeal of Kentucky's death penalty. Here are the details:

Arguing that capital punishment is often applied unfairly against minorities and the poor, the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights board has passed a resolution opposing the death penalty in Kentucky.

The commissioners, at a meeting Wednesday in Lexington, urged the Kentucky General Assembly to repeal the law that allows the use of the death penalty in murder convictions. The commission also urged Gov. Steve Beshear to sign any such law brought before him. The resolution unanimously passed by the commissioners will be submitted to Beshear and to each state legislator.

As of April 1, Kentucky had 35 inmates on death row at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville, according to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Marco Allen Chapman was the last Kentucky inmate executed, by lethal injection in 2008....

The commission resolution read: “Since 1976, when Kentucky reinstated the death penalty, 50 of the 78 people sentenced to death have had their death sentence or conviction overturned, due to misconduct or serious errors that occurred during their trial. This represents an unacceptable error rate of more than 60 percent.”

The resolution said statistics show “the death penalty is disproportionately imposed on minorities and the poor. African Americans constitute 12 percent of the U.S. population, but represent 42 percent of prisoners on death row.” It cited figures from Amnesty International that more than 20 percent of black defendants executed since 1976 were convicted by all-white juries.

A press release from the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights concerning this resolution is available at this link.  I find notable, and somewhat troubling, that this resolution cites national statistics on race and the application of the death penalty, but fails to discuss Kentucky's statistics.

I suspect the failure to discuss Kentucky's racial data in the application of the death penalty is a result of the fact that vast majority of murderers on Kentucky's death row are white.  Indeed, based on the pictures on this page of the 34 Kentucky death row defendants from the state Department of Corrections, it appears that 29 are white (85%) which is spot on with the percentages of white in Kentucky's general population.  (Of course, the proper statistical comparision is death sentences as compared to capital murderers, but those are hard numbers to find without serious research.  Then again, one would hope a state commission might do this kind of research before passing a resolution on a topic of great importance.)

October 21, 2012 in Death Penalty Reforms, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (39) | TrackBack