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Stephen Bright: End of the Death Penalty "Inevitable"

Renowned death penalty attorney and Kentucky native Stephen Bright says capital punishment is a decade or two from being eliminated in the U.S.. (Southern Center for Human Rights)
Renowned death penalty attorney and Kentucky native Stephen Bright says capital punishment is a decade or two from being eliminated in the U.S.. (Southern Center for Human Rights)
June 27, 2016

DANVILLE, Ky. – A Kentucky native who has helped overturn dozens of death sentences says it's inevitable that the death penalty will come to an end in the United States.

The death penalty remains legal for now in 31 states including Kentucky, but attorney Stephen Bright says capital punishment is on a steady downward trend toward abolition.

"Some people say 10 years, some people say 20, but I think almost everybody agrees that we will not have the death penalty in another decade or two,” he states. “And, I think there's no question."

Bright is president and senior counsel at the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights.

Last month, he won a new trial for a Georgia death row inmate, when the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-to-1 ruling, said the defendant's constitutional rights had been violated at trial.

The 68-year-old Bright has now won all three of the capital cases he has argued before the nation's highest court.

Bright grew up on a farm outside of Danville in the 1960s, in a community that at that time was, in his words, "still segregated for the most part."

Bright says he was influenced by Martin Luther King, Jr.

"One message that Dr. King had was that nothing was more important than eliminating racism and poverty and that that was what we had to be doing, and I found that to be a pretty good way to live my life," he states.

Bright was student body president at the University of Kentucky when protests against the Vietnam War reached their boiling point on campus, and he was arrested.

By 1974, he had graduated from UK's law school and began working for the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund in rural Kentucky.

But Bright says his opposition to the death penalty began well before then.

"I remember when I was a fairly small child hearing about somebody being sentenced to death, and just being absolutely horrified that a modern society would have such a primitive punishment,” he relates. “I just sort of shook my head. It was like burning at the stake or something."

Bright has led the nonprofit legal defense center in Atlanta since the early 1980s, but still maintains a part-time home in his native Boyle County.

He believes the Kentucky Legislature will eventually agree with him that the death penalty takes too long and costs too much.


Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY