October 19, 2012 http://www.courier-journal.com
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 in Lexington Wednesday 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. Steven 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 Penetentiary in Eddyville, according to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Marco Allen Chapman was the last Kentucky inmates executed, by lethal injection in 2008.
State Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, said the state legislature has considered abolishing the death penalty several times without passing a measure. He said he expects that a bill proposing the end of capital punishment will be introduced again and that he wouldn’t be surprised if the measure might have a chance to be enacted. “In my view, it could happen, because it’s so long overdue,” Neal said.
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 that “statistics confirm that the imposition of 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.
Additionally, it said, states are more likely to seek the death penalty when the offender is black and the victim is white, and that a death sentence is more likely to be imposed on black offenders convicted of killing a white victim.
The resolution also noted that more than 90 percent of defendants in capital cases are indigent and cannot afford an experienced criminal defense attorney.
According to Amnesty International, more than two-thirds of the countries in the world have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.
The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights is the state authority that enforces the Kentucky and United States Civil Rights acts, which make discrimination illegal.