|Downtown Harrodsburg, Kentucky|
FRANKFORT, Ky. – A bill that would have abolished capital punishment in Kentucky was rejected by a House committee Wednesday despite claims from opponents that the death penalty is unworkable, too costly and sometimes results in convictions of innocent people.
"The death penalty you support is not the death penalty we have," Rep. David Floyd, a Bardstown Republican, said in appealing to fellow lawmakers to approve House Bill 203, which he sponsored.
HB 203 would replace a death sentence with life without possibility of parole.
But members of the House Judiciary Committee rejected HB 203 on a vote of 9-8 with several committee members expressing unwavering support for the death penalty including Rep. Robert Benvenuti, a Lexington Republican, who spoke against the bill.
"It will never, ever have my support," Benvenuti said.
Still, supporters of ending the death penalty said they were encouraged that the measure got a hearing and a vote before a legislative committee for the first time since 1976 when the General Assembly voted to reinstate the death penalty after it was struck down by a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
"It's progress," said Rev. Patrick Delahanty, chairman of the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. "We'll be back. Some of them will be gone. Things change."
Several people joined Floyd to speak in favor of ending capital punishment in Kentucky including Joe Gutmann, a former assistant commonwealth's attorney in Jefferson County who prosecuted death penalty cases, and retired Jefferson Circuit Judge Steve Ryan, who said he had presided over such cases and imposed a death sentence.
Gutmann said he once supported the death penalty but has come to oppose it because of the frequent mistakes in the judicial process and the fact that innocent people on death row have been freed in Kentucky and other states after they were exonerated.
"Innocent men are sentenced to death as are guilty ones," he said.
Also speaking in support of abolishing the death penalty was Marc Hyden, advocacy coordinator for the national organization Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty.
"We believe the death penalty is inconsistent with our core principle of valuing life," Hyden said.
But several lawmakers who voted against the measure brought up heinous crimes that had occurred in their districts, arguing the death penalty should be available in such cases.
They included Rep. Johnny Bell, a Glasgow Democrat, who mentioned last year's brutal rape and murder of a 7-year-old girl in southern Kentucky.
"For me, when it comes to the death penalty, I think about what you have to do to get there," Bell said.
Kentucky currently has 32 people on death row at the Kentucky State Penitentiary at Eddyville.
The last execution was in 2008.
Executions currently are suspended in Kentucky by order of Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd over questions about the drugs used for lethal injection and how to determine the mental capacity of those sentenced to die, Delahanty said.
Source: Courier-Journal, Deborah Yetter, March 9, 2016