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Ban Death Penalty for Severely Mentally Ill?

August 13, 2010

FRANKFORT, Ken. - Several national groups are endorsing legislation in Kentucky to prevent the use of the death penalty for individuals with severe mental illnesses. Mental health advocates are urging state lawmakers to consider the proposed ban, but still hold those persons accountable for their crimes.

Dr. Russ Williams, a member of the Kentucky Psychological Association, says the measure is not seeking to remove prosecution for defendants with severe mental illnesses, but to eliminate the death sentence as punishment.

"The only thing we're asking is that, due to the severity of their mental illness and their incapacity to appreciate and to conform their conduct at the time of the crime, the death penalty not be administered to these individuals."

Dr. Sheila Schuster, executive director of the Kentucky Mental Health Coalition, says 2.5 percent of the population is affected by severe mental illness, and the proposed ban seeks to protect those with an impaired understanding of right and wrong.

"If you believe the death penalty should be a deterrent, and it should be reserved for the worst of the worst, then it really doesn't fit the severely mentally ill."

Defendants with severe mental retardation and youth under 18 who commit capital crimes are already exempt from the death penalty as a result of U.S. Supreme Court rulings in 2002 and 2005.

Renee Shaw, Public News Service - KY