Lawmaker Pushes For Expansion in Death Penalty Cases

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky's use of the death penalty would
be expanded to include more child killers under a bill introduced
in the state House.
The proposal by state Rep. Joe Fischer, a Fort Thomas
Republican, would give prosecutors another aggravating circumstance
that would allow them to seek the death penalty in a murder case.
It allows prosecutors to seek death against people who kill
children under age 12 after having harmed them previously.
"The state has the right and the duty to protect its most
vulnerable citizens, especially children, from threatening behavior
from adults," Fischer said. "Although I agree the death penalty
should be invoked rarely, there are certain types of crimes that it
seems to me can be deterred by the availability of the death
The proposal is one of nearly 200 bills Kentucky lawmakers have
filed in the opening days of the 2009 General Assembly. Lawmakers
opened the session on Tuesday and on Friday are expected to recess
for three weeks until Feb. 3.
While lawmakers are expected to focus their attention on how to
handle a projected $456.1 million budget shortfall by June 30,
other matters are sure to come before them.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Prestonsburg Democrat and former
attorney general, said Thursday he hadn't seen Fischer's proposal
but hoped it would get a hearing.
"I'm an advocate of the death penalty and if the crime
justifies the punishment, then it's my position that the crime
should require the punishment," Stumbo said.
Currently, there are 36 inmates on Kentucky's death row. In the
last two years, three inmates have had their death sentences
overturned, and former Gov. Ernie Fletcher commuted one death
Kentucky has eight aggravating factors that prosecutors can use
to seek a death sentence in a murder case. For example, an
aggravating factor could be if a murder was intentional and
resulted in multiple deaths, or if it was a killing done for
Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington-based Death
Penalty Information Center, said that recently there have been
fewer death sentences and executions across the country.
Last year, there were 37 executions nationally, which was fewer
than the two previous years, Dieter said. About 115 death sentences
were handed out last year, the same as in 2007, compared to the
late 1990s when there were about 300 death sentences annually,
Dieter said.
"Around the country there is less use of the death penalty,"
Dieter said. "States are reconsidering whether this is a wise use
of resources."
Chris Cohron, president of the Kentucky Commonwealth's Attorney
Association, said the state's prosecutors had not taken a formal
"There's nothing more tragic than a child that's been
repeatedly abused by the offender," Cohron said. "I would have
faith in the juries of the Commonwealth of Kentucky that they would
apply this provision, if it passed, only in the most egregious
The Rev. Pat Delahanty, who lobbies for the Catholic Conference
of Kentucky, said the proposal comes after Kentucky and other
states have had recent problems with death sentences being
overturned. Delahanty, who also heads the Kentucky Coalition to
Abolish the Death Penalty, said many Kentuckians prefer sentences
other than death.
"We are dealing with a broken system here," Delahanty said.
"And to increase the use of the death penalty when the system is
broken is, from our point of view, really bad public policy."
Still, Fischer said the death penalty can be a deterrent to
potential murderers.
"Justice will be done if the death penalty is available in this
situation," Fischer said.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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