The American Bar Association and a team of Kentucky law professionals say the commonwealth needs to suspend executions.
The Kentucky Assessment Team, made of state’s attorneys, former state Supreme Court justices and law school professors, released a two-year report Wednesday that finds several flaws in the state’s capital punishment system. The ABA has sponsored similar studies in eight other states beginning in 2001.
The Kentucky report finds of the 78 people sentences to death in the state, 50 have had a death sentence overturned on appeal. Further, 10 of those sentenced were represented by defense attorneys who have disbarred.
But the report also shows these public defenders are often under-qualified and have more case loads but less pay than the national average. It also finds that many jurors serving in capital punishment cases failed to understand sentencing guidelines before deciding whether a defendant should be executed.
The team has made 10 recommendations and says until the issues are addressed the state should cease carrying out all death sentences.
Louisville Metro Chief Public Defender Dan Goyette agrees with the recommendation.
“There are serious questions about the reliability of the convictions and sentences of a number of inmates facing execution, particularly in those cases that were tried years ago by unqualified lawyers lacking adequate resources,” Goyette said in a press release.
Goyette and sent a request to Gov. Steve Beshear and Attorney General Jack Conway asking that no execution warrants be considered until the study’s reforms are put into effect.
In a statement, Conway wrote: “I appreciate the ABA’s work on this report. I am reviewing it carefully, but I do not at first glance believe its analysis warrants a suspension of the death penalty. A suspension of the death penalty disregards trial verdicts, years of judicial review, and the surviving family members of victims.”
Kentucky is the ninth state in which the ABA’s project has made recommendations. In six of nine states, a moratorium on executions has been recommended.