KY Lawmakers Hear Message of Innocence
PHOTO: Former death row inmate Sabrina Butler talks with Sen. Gerald Neal sponsor of a bill to outlaw capital punishment in Kentucky. Photo courtesy Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
March 14, 2014
FRANKFORT, Ky. – Bills in both the Kentucky Senate and House would abolish the death penalty, but neither has received a committee hearing.
So one of the bill's sponsors, Sen. Gerald Neal, decided to, in his words, "make it a little more personal."
During a floor speech, he introduced exonerated Mississippi death row inmate Sabrina Butler, who was sitting in the gallery.
"Sabrina Butler is not the exception because the system, quite frankly, is broken, it's broken," Neal insisted.
Neal told his fellow senators that 144 people have been freed from death rows nationwide since 1973 because they were wrongly convicted. Butler is the only woman.
Kentucky is among 32 states where the death penalty remains legal.
Neal's bill, and companion legislation in the House, would make life without parole the maximum sentence.
After spending five years behind bars, Butler was exonerated in 1999 for the death of her infant son.
She is now part of Witness to Innocence, an organization dedicated to letting those freed from death row speak out against execution.
"As long as there is a human element surrounding the death penalty, we will always get it wrong," Butler said.
The Mississippi Supreme Court overturned Butler's conviction, finding that her son's death was the result of a kidney-related illness, and that the bruises on his body were from his mother's efforts to save him.
"Being wrongfully accused and sitting on death row, it was a very scary thing for me and it just upset my life,” she said. “I don't know, I guess you could say I'm really basically a loner. I don't really mingle much unless I'm doing this advocacy work because I still live in the same town."
Butler has been married for 18 years and now has three children.
In addition to the bills to abolish the death penalty in Kentucky, there is also a proposal to study the cost of the death penalty.