NKY Senator wants to restart Kentucky’s use of the death penalty

Mark Payne
Mark Payne
Mark Payne is the government and politics reporter for LINK nky. Email him at [email protected].

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Northern Kentucky Senator John Schickel (R-Union) wants to bring back capital punishment in Kentucky.

Currently, there’s an injunction in circuit court that prevents the death penalty from being used in the Commonwealth.

Schickel said he plans to speak with the attorney general and 2023 AG candidates in order to do so.

“It’s been a long time since it’s been used,” Schickel said during the Budget Review Subcommittee on Justice and Judiciary on Wednesday. “It’s my hope that we can start using it again, and we’ll have an attorney general elected that will start pursuing it.”

The committee was hearing testimony from the Department of Corrections and Justice & Public Safety Cabinet about funding for the prison systems in Kentucky. 

Schickel asked questions about funding for the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville, the only facility in Kentucky that executes prisoners. He wanted to ensure that the facilities in Eddyville were still equipped to provide lethal injection, the only form of capital punishment used by the Commonwealth.

“I wanted their assurance that it was, it’s their responsibility,” Schickel said. 

The Department of Corrections representatives said they would get back to Schickel because they needed to check. 

Schickel said capital punishment has been on his mind for a while, even though he knows it’s an unpopular subject. Opponents of pro-life Republicans often say that the death penalty doesn’t align with those values.

But Schickel disagrees. 

“I disagree with that vehemently,” he said. “An innocent baby’s life needs to be protected. A convicted criminal is different than an innocent baby.” 

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While the Senator from Union hopes to revive the death penalty, it is not often used in Kentucky. There have only been three executions since 1976, when the legislature repealed the mandatory death statute. 

Currently, 27 inmates sit on death row. The Governor has the sole right to grant clemency in Kentucky. 

In 2010, Franklin County Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd issued a moratorium on the death penalty after questioning the constitutionality of the amount of pain caused during lethal injection. He also expressed concerns about the mental stability of death row inmates.

In 2019, Shepherd struck down Kentucky’s death penalty protocol calling it unconstitutional, citing state rules that allow a person with intellectual disabilities to be executed.

“There’s currently an injunction from a circuit court that prevents it from being used,” said Gov. Andy Beshear. “Certainly, both the Attorney General’s Office and the Justice cabinet are part of that case trying to work through the concerns that the judge has, but right now, based on a federal order, executions cannot occur in Kentucky.” 

Federal law “categorically prohibits the execution of intellectually disabled persons.” 

But Kentucky didn’t always follow that rule until Shepherd’s initial ruling in 2010. 

A 2021 poll by the Justice Research Group (JRG) found bipartisan support against the death penalty for those with mental illness.

“I know that it’s controversial, and I know the polls show there maybe isn’t support for the death penalty as in years past,” Schickel said. “I personally support it as a legislator. I think until the law is changed by the legislature, we need to proceed.”

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In the 2022 legislative session, the legislature passed House Bill 269, which bans capital punishment for those diagnosed with a qualifiable mental disorder such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Schickel voted against the bill. Northern Kentucky Reps. Savannah Maddox (R-Dry Ridge) and Sal Santoro (R-Union) also voted against the bill. 

Schickel said no specific inmates should be executed, but it’s up to the judge and juries. 

“We do have a death penalty on the books, and I think we should use it,” Schickel said. 

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