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Death Penalty Opponents See Hope in Justices' Dissents

Advocates for repealing the death penalty in Kentucky claim momentum remains on their side despite a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing the use of a controversial drug. Credit: Greg Stotelmyer.
Advocates for repealing the death penalty in Kentucky claim momentum remains on their side despite a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing the use of a controversial drug. Credit: Greg Stotelmyer.
July 13, 2015

FRANKFORT, Ky. – It was two weeks ago today that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in an Oklahoma case that a controversial drug could be used in executions.

Ironically, death penalty abolitionists in Kentucky see a silver lining in the 5-4 decision by focusing on what dissenting justices had to say.

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote, "..rather than try to patch up the death penalty's legal wounds one at a time, I would ask for full briefing on a more basic question: whether the death penalty violates the Constitution."

Mike VonAllmen volunteers with the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

"For them to add their weight to it, certainly gives weight to the entire question,” he states. “Yes, the rest of the court should heed that message and begin to look at it."

VonAllmen brings a unique perspective to the debate. Convicted of sexual assault and robbery in 1982, he spent 11 years behind bars and another 16 years on parole before being exonerated in 2010.

A judge set aside his conviction in part because VonAllmen was mistakenly identified by the victim.

Kentucky is among 31 states where the death penalty remains legal, legislators often citing it as a deterrent to crime.

VonAllmen says his ordeal shows how easily someone can be convicted of a crime he or she did not commit.

While his was not a capital punishment case, he says it still speaks to why he believes the death penalty should be abolished.

"It says that it is less than perfect,” he stresses. “So, therefore, we can't administer the most serious penalty to something that we can never be 100 percent sure of."

Again this year, the Kentucky General Assembly rejected two bills that would have made life without parole the maximum sentence.

State Sen. Gerald Neal, (D) Louisville, says he will continue filing legislation to repeal the death penalty.

"There's no doubt in my mind that at some point the death penalty will be a thing of the past and we will move right up there with other highly industrialized countries around the world," he states.

The last execution in Kentucky was in 2008.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY