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Death penalty cases a high cost

BY LAUREN P. DUNCAN lduncan@paducahsun.com

Death penalty opponents in Kentucky hope to catch the attention of lawmakers and the public with a financial argument against capital punishment: It's expensive.

The General Assembly's Interim Committee on Judiciary will meet in Paducah today, where committee members will hear testimony from opponents and proponents of the death penalty. 

One way Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, and other opponents hope to draw legislative support to abolish the penalty is by spreading word on the higher cost of the death penalty versus life in prison.

"A dozen states have found that the costs of prosecuting a capital case - including subsequent incarceration, higher costs during incarceration, appeals - are up to 10 times more than it is for life without parole or another penalty," Floyd said.

He introduced a bill to abolish the death penalty during the spring legislative session, but it did not receive a judiciary committee hearing.

Death penalty cases cost substantially more than trials when the death penalty is not sought because of additional and more-experienced lawyers, experts, jury selections and trial time, Floyd said. 

He estimated Kentucky spends between $3 and $4 million every year in public defender costs in death penalty cases.

Although no recent studies have been completed on the costs of the death penalty in Kentucky, states around the country have completed studies over the past 10 to 20 years and found the costs of capital punishment are higher than life without parole. A 2004 report by the Tennessee Comptroller's office found that death penalty trials in Tennessee, at the time, cost an average of 48 percent more than the average cost of trials in which prosecutors sought life imprisonment. 

Opponents to the death penalty at the committee hearing are set to address several reasons against the punishment, which has been on hold in Kentucky since 2010 when the state's lethal injection protocol was brought into question. Opponents want to dispel the idea that life in prison is more costly than the death penalty to garner legislative support.

Jason D. Hall, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky and death penalty opponent, said individuals may have different principles behind their opposition of the penalty, but what he thinks can make a difference with lawmakers is the financial impact of capital punishment.

"What's probably going to be that final domino is the realization that this is the easiest thing we can do to save a lot of money," he said.

According to information from the American Bar Association, between 1976 and 2011, 78 people were sentenced to death in Kentucky. Fifty-two of those individuals had their penalties overturned on appeal or were granted clemency. 

Since 1976, there have been only three executions in the state, two of which were voluntary.

Today's hearing will begin at 10 a.m. at West Kentucky Community and Technical College's Emerging Technology Center.

Contact Lauren Duncan, Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8692 or follow @laurenpduncan on Twitter.

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