Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

December 11, 2013

Should judge recuse in death penalty issue?


Dec. 11, 2013 — We have praised Franklin County Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd in the past for what we believe most Kentuckians would agree have been sensible legal opinions in important cases like redistricting.

A circuit judge in the home of the state capitol has frequent opportunities to impact the entire state through rulings on state laws and regulations.

Anyone who wants to sue the Commonwealth of Kentucky must do so in Franklin County.

Judge Shepherd is an able jurist and we mean no disrespect to him but we believe he should consider recusing himself from further rulings on the constitutionality of the state’s death penalty statute.

It was Judge Shepherd who stopped the use of lethal injections in 2010 in response to a lawsuit brought by death row inmates over Kentucky's execution procedures.

The Kentucky Department of Corrections rewrote its protocols for administering the drugs supposed to bring sudden, painless death to the condemned.

The state also developed other sources of the required lethal chemicals in case of shortages at the wrong time.

Kentucky switched from the electric chair to lethal injections because it is a more humane way to kill someone.

If you think that is barbaric, keep in mind that until 1911 we used to hang our murderers in front of cheering, jeering crowds.

Kentucky’s electric chair, called “Old Sparky”, remains on standby at the state prison at Eddyville.

If you killed someone before March 31, 1998, you still have the right to choose to die in the chair or by lethal injection.

Judge Shepherd refused last week to lift his injunction prohibiting executions. But he did say the state now has the right protocols in place for lethal injections.

However, he ruled those death row convicts can have more time to amend their 2006 lawsuit to raise new questions about access to an attorney, public viewing of executions and execution of the mentally ill.

We’re concerned that this judge has decided, perhaps subconsciously, that he now opposes capital punishment.

If that is the case, he should step aside and let someone else decide about resuming executions.

Since he already has decided that the actual execution process is OK, why the refusal to lift the injunction?

We believe the families of the victims of those 32 men and one woman on death row are entitled to final justice.

In our view, Kentucky’s capital punishment law should be enforced and we should stop wasting time and money on 33 killers who’ve already had their day in court.