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Scales of Justice Off-Balance with KY Death Penalty?

December 20, 2010

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Poor defendants in capital crimes may get their day in court, but often without well-equipped legal counsel, according to a recent report by the ACLU. It comes on the heels of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens' recent about-face on the death penalty, which he now views as unconstitutional. The report says the attorneys appointed to these cases are often overworked, underpaid, and lack the resources and experience to defend people in death penalty cases.

Kate Miller, with the ACLU of Kentucky, sees the delayed execution of a Kentucky man as a case in point.

"So, you can look at the case of Gregory Wilson. He was almost, very recently, almost executed, and his case has been called 'a charade' for a variety of reasons - namely inadequate counsel, which is really highlighted in the report."

Miller says experts agree the death penalty is the most costly, yet least effective way to address criminal behavior.

"States with the death penalty have higher rates of homicides than states without. And polls of police chiefs show that they don't support the death penalty as the most effective means to prevent crime."

According to the ACLU report, 138 innocent people have been released from death rows across the country since 1978. Miller contends that the severity of the crime is not necessarily what lands someone on death row. She says 41 percent of the national death row population is African-American, and 80 percent of victims were white.

"It's not necessarily the severity of crime that you committed. It's maybe what county you live in; it's maybe who your representation is, who the prosecutor is. Is it an election year? And finally, what color are you? And what was the color of the skin of your victim?"

Miller says the American Bar Association appointed a ten-person task force of legal experts in Kentucky to analyze and review the death penalty system. There are three active death warrants, but the state has run out of the lethal injection drug to carry out the executions.

The ACLU report is at www.aclu.org

Renee Shaw, Public News Service - KY