By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor
With encouragement from the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, state Rep. David Floyd introduced a bill last week to end capital punishment in Kentucky.
The Republican lawmaker from Bardstown, Ky., believes, “there’s a great conservative case to make for the abolition of the death penalty.”
The Catholic Conference of Kentucky — which represents the state’s bishops in Frankfort — has supported measures to abolish the punishment in Kentucky year after year. They back a similar bill in the Senate, which has been introduced by Democratic Sen. Gerald Neal of Louisville for several years.
This new proposal — spearheaded by a Republican — is an important development, according to the CCK’s executive director.
“This is a definite shift, to have a bipartisan effort in two chambers led by a Democrat in one and a Republican in the other, is unheard of in Kentucky,” said Father Delahanty in a recent interview.
House Bill 330 seeks specifically to abolish the death penalty in Kentucky and replace it with life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Rep. Floyd said he has co-sponsored similar measures in the past.
“This is the first time I’ve taken the lead,” he noted. “That was at the request of the Catholic Conference.”
The representative, who is Baptist, said his position on capital punishment shifted about 15 years ago. He was asked by his pastor to teach a class on the subject of “man.”
“What I saw in the Bible was an epiphany. God breathed into Adam and that is his life,” Rep. Floyd said in a phone interview. “So, it’s God’s breath in each one of us.
“To me, we have fights, we have battles, we have wars. That’s one thing,” he said. “But when we have someone incarcerated who can do no harm, it’s not ours to take.”
Before that epiphany, Rep. Floyd said, “I never really thought about it. I thought, ‘Sure, I’m for the death penalty. It’s part of our justice system.’
“But,” he added, “I had pondered insufficiently.”
Rep. Floyd said many of his constituents and fellow Republicans disagree with his position. He wants to encourage them to give the issue some serious thought.
“My task is to encourage them to ponder sufficiently,” he said. “We just don’t think about these things. We’re too busy. We don’t stop to think about what it means to execute someone.”
Rep. Floyd said that when the CCK asked him to sponsor an abolition bill, he did more research — pondered the question even more — and “realized there is a great conservative case to make for the abolition of the death penalty.”
“It begins with the general conservative philosophy,” he said, “and that is smaller government, mistrust in the government. Conservatives don’t trust the government to run its health care system. At the same time, we completely trust them with a human life — with the power of life or death over that human being.”
Rep. Floyd also pointed to the cost of applying the death penalty. He said that most defendants in capital cases have pubic defenders and the prosecution is paid with public funds. Defense costs $3-4 million a year, he said. While the cost of prosecution hasn’t been disclosed, Floyd said it’s reasonable to assume the cost is similar to that of the defense.
He estimates that hundreds of millions of tax dollars have been spent on the death penalty since 1976, when it was reinstated in Kentucky.
“Since ‘76 to today — all of those hundreds of millions of dollars — we have executed three people,” he said. “And we have 33 people on death row now.
“To me, justice is putting someone behind bars without the possibility of coming out,” he said.
Ruth Lowe, a member of St. Louis Bertrand Church, agrees wholeheartedly. She spoke in favor of House Bill 330 during a press conference at the capitol last week.
She is one of a handful of murder victims’ relatives who are now speaking out about their opposition to capital punishment.
Lowe’s brother, Charles Clarence Brooks, was murdered nearly four decades ago. She didn’t want his attackers to die, she said, because they still have the capacity to change, to be redeemed.
“A lot of people think abortion is wrong, but that it’s alright to take someone else’s life,” she said during a phone interview Monday. “My faith teaches me that killing is wrong — whether it’s government sanctioned, it’s still wrong.”