FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Gov. Ernie Fletcher signed a death warrant on Wednesday for an eastern Kentucky man convicted of murdering a sheriff and his deputy, generating a storm of criticism from capital punishment opponents who questioned the timing.
Fletcher, who is in the midst of a re-election campaign, set a Sept. 25 execution date - six weeks before the general election - for Ralph Stevens Baze. Baze, condemned to death in 1993 for killing Powell County Sheriff Steve Bennett and Deputy Arthur Briscoe, would be the first death row inmate executed in the state since 1999.
Critics said they were alarmed that Fletcher, Kentucky's first Republican governor in more than 30 years, set the execution so close to the Nov. 6 election.
"I would question the motives and the timing," said state Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, an outspoken death penalty opponent. "The death penalty is used by politicians all the time to secure their political careers. The timing is in the middle of a gubernatorial election when the governor is fighting for his political life."
Fletcher confirmed during a campaign stop in Pikeville that he had signed the death warrant.
"It's a very clear cut case," Fletcher said. "There's no question of guilt. The crime warrants capital punishment."
Last week, Attorney General Greg Stumbo, a Democrat, asked Fletcher to schedule an execution for Baze. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected Baze's final appeal in July, clearing the way for Stumbo to make the request.
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