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Death Row Inmate Facing Retrial Challenging Capital Punishment

ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. (AP) - A Death Row inmate facing a retrial in
a 1991 slaying is challenging how prosecutors decide when to seek
capital punishment.
Attorneys for Michael St. Clair, 50, said Kentucky's capital
punishment law is unconstitutional because prosecutors have
"unbridled discretion" when deciding to pursue the death penalty.
Vince Yustas argues that while guidelines are in place to determine
whether a case qualifies for the death penalty, prosecutors have
the final say of whether to pursue capital punishment.
"Whether or not to seek the death penalty rests entirely in the
hands of individual commonwealth's attorneys," Yustas said in a
memorandum filed Aug. 20 in Hardin Circuit Court.
That creates a situation where the death penalty is handed out
in an "arbitrary and capricious" way, Yustas said.
"A defendant is faced with the luck of geography," Yustas
said.
Kentucky Attorney General Greg Stumbo's office did not return
phone calls seeking comment.
Hardin Commonwealth's Attorney Chris Shaw said delays in death
penalty cases are not caused by prosecutors and judges "in the
trenches," but with the governor's office. Since taking office in
2003, Gov. Ernie Fletcher has set execution dates for two inmates,
Thomas Clyde Bowling and Ralph S. Baze Jr.
Bowling was condemned for a 1991 shooting of a husband and wife
in Lexington. A judge stopped Bowling's execution in 2004 after he
challenged the legality of lethal injection.
Baze, condemned to death for shooting a sheriff and deputy in
1992 in Powell County, is scheduled to die Sept. 25, unless a judge
stops it.
Shaw is frustrated that with 40 inmates on death row, that more
warrants haven't been signed.
"How many other death row inmates have exhausted their
appeals?" Shaw asked. "We either need to use it or take it off
the books."
St. Clair was sentenced to death for kidnapping and killing
Frank Brady. He stole Brady's truck while running away from a jail
escape from Oklahoma. The Bullitt County conviction also involved a
murder committed while St. Clair was on the run.
The conviction was overturned after the Kentucky Supreme Court
ruled in 2005 that a judge improperly allowed St. Clair's ex-wife
to testify against him. St. Clair also faces a death sentence for a
murder conviction from Bullitt County. St. Clair is also under two
sentences of life without parole for murders committed in Oklahoma.
Kentucky has executed two people since the reinstatement of the
death penalty in 1976. Harold McQueen was electrocuted in 1997 for
killing a convenience store clerk in 1991. Eddie Lee Harper waived
his appeals in 1999 and was put to death by lethal injection for
killing family members.
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Information from: The News-Enterprise,
http://www.newsenterpriseonline.com

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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