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Mental Illness and the Death Penalty in Kentucky - Proposed Bill for 2010

October 29, 2009

FRANKFORD, Ky. - The death penalty debate in Kentucky has new momentum. A proposal expected to be before the legislature next session would abolish the death sentence for those suffering from severe mental illness.

Public Advocate Edward Monahan sees the tide shifting against the death penalty. He says this bill is the next wave in that effort.

"There is a growing national consensus that we should not be killing the severely mentally ill."

Not everyone agrees with Monahan. Some members of the Kentucky Commonwealth's Attorneys Association oppose the legislation, concerned about definitions of mental illness and how the law might be used to drag out previous sentences. On the other side of the question, the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty is one of several groups standing behind the bill.

Good reasons exist for supporting the bill, Monahan adds.

"People who do not have the ability to fully reflect and deliberate, who are not as blame-worthy as other people for their actions because they don't have the mental capacity, should not be subject to the ultimate sentence in our country."

Numerous mental health advocates and religious groups support the bill. If it becomes law, it will apply only to a person accused of a crime whose trial begins after the effective date of the legislation (July 2010).

Bill Goodman, Public News Service - KY