After years of efforts, a bill that would abolish the death penalty in Kentucky received its first legislative hearing on Wednesday.
But it failed to advance the House Judiciary Committee by one vote.
The bill would have replaced the death penalty with life without parole.
“We have tried to perfect the system, but human beings are flawed and we make mistakes,” said Rep. David Floyd, a Republican from Bardstown and the bill’s sponsor. “When the state imposes a death penalty it will never be perfect, it never will be so and we have to acknowledge that.”
Kentucky has executed three people since it reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Joe Gutmann, a former assistant commonwealth’s attorney in Jefferson County, said he used to argue capital punishment cases but lost faith in the process.
“The fact that an innocent person could have been killed in carrying out a death sentence proves the stakes being so irrevocably high that our law must be changed,” Gutmann said.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 156 people sentenced to death in America since 1973 have been acquitted, had charges dismissed or pardoned.
About two-thirds of Kentuckians support capital punishment, according to a Bluegrass Poll from 2013.
Mark Hyden, national advocacy coordinator with Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty, said that the practice is inconsistent with conservative values of limited government.
“I believe that conservatives are correct to be skeptical of this power, considering that many of us do not fully trust the government to do mundane things like delivering a piece of mail or launching a health care website,” he said. “In the end, the death penalty is just an expensive and dangerous program.”
Rep. Gerald Watkins, a Democrat from Paducah, said life in prison isn’t a severe-enough punishment.
“Their lifestyle is much better than a lot of other people’s out on the street,” Watkins said.
Rep. Johnny Bell, a Democrat from Glasgow, agreed, citing the brutal murder of a 7-year-old girl in Allen County last fall.
“Me personally, just to be honest with you, I want that individual to feel the same person and feel the same dread when that little 7-year-old girl felt when she was done the way she was done,” Bell said.
The committee voted the bill down 9-8.