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Kentucky General Assembly acts to abolish the death penalty for the severely mentally ill

Louisville Democratic Senator David Yates 3-25-22
Louisville Democratic Senator David Yates 3-25-22

The Kentucky General Assembly has passed legislation prohibiting the death penalty for those with a diagnosis of a serious mental illness. The House-approved bill passed 25 to nine Friday in the Senate.

Under the bill, persons in Kentucky convicted of a capital offense who have one of four mental disorders would not be a candidate for the death penalty. The legislation spells out the defendant must have active symptoms and a documented history at the time of the crime. Leitchfield GOP Senator Stephen Meredith cast an aye vote.

“You can’t say we’re pro-life and then say except. There’s no exception. All life has to be precious in view of that standpoint,” said Meredith.

Union GOP Senator John Schickel voted no. He said he believes in humanity, but also believes in justice and that it’s not the legislature’s job to answer the question on mental illness. Schickel said that’s the jury’s job. He also took exception to a pro-life argument for passage of the bill.

“We’re going to lose credibility in the pro-life movement if we start comparing a convicted criminal who is convicted of the most heinous crimes and is sentenced to death by a jury of his peers with an innocent, holy, baby that has not done anything. For men, that is an absurd analogy,” said Schickel.

Another yes vote came from Hazard GOP Senator Brandon Smith. He told how his step-father was killed in a mistaken identity case and the offender spent eight years in jail. Smith said he had previously voted against this type of measure, but since it’s is narrowly tailored to specific mental illnesses, he would vote aye.

The legislation is not retroactive for those on death row. The abolishment of the death penalty for the severely mentally ill has been filed multiple times in the past. It goes now to the governor.

Stu has been reporting for WEKU for more than 35 years. His primary beat is Lexington/Fayette government.
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