Merriam-Webster Dictionary has a very simple definition for murder: “The crime of unlawfully killing a person, especially with malice aforethought.” Kentucky Revised Statute 507.020 says a person is guilty of murder when, “With intent to cause the death of another person, he causes the death of such person or of a third person . . .” and goes on to say, “Murder is a capital offense.”
You need the services of a Kentucky murder defense lawyer like Dan Carman, who will work tirelessly to get all the facts of the case and use those facts to build the strongest defense possible for you or your loved one when the case goes to trial.
Murder Convictions in Kentucky
Aeschylus, a Greek playwright who lived 500 or more years before the birth of Jesus Christ, wrote, “This is the law: blood spilt upon the ground cries out for more.”
In the 20th century, W. H. Auden, a British-American author, wrote: “Murder is unique in that it abolishes the party it injures, so that society has to take the place of the victim and on his behalf demand atonement or grant forgiveness; it is the one crime in which society has a direct interest.”
Death as the penalty for “blood spilt upon the ground” in the taking a human life has been an accepted punishment since earliest human history, with Babylonian law and passages in the Old Testament of the Bible dictating “an eye for an eye,” meaning a punishment similar to the crime committed was to be inflicted on the criminal.
Kentucky has held to the principle of death for death since before it became a commonwealth. Officially recorded instances of the death penalty date to the late 1700s, when Kentucky was designated the District of Kentucky of the State of Virginia.
Since that first officially recorded execution and until the most recent execution in Kentucky, which was carried out by lethal injection at Kentucky State Prison in Eddyville in 2008, the Commonwealth has executed 427 people.
The Death Penalty in Kentucky
The United States Supreme Court abolished the death penalty in this country from 1972 until 1976, because of a ruling by the Court that the death penalty was cruel and unusual punishment and therefore in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. However, the death penalty resumed in 1976 with a ruling by the Court that bifurcated, or split, consideration of capital crimes into essentially two hearings: the guilt-innocence phase and the sentencing phase. In the second phase, the jury looks at mitigating factors (anything that might lessen the severity of the sentence) when deciding on death or life in prison, with or without the possibility of parole.
Today, Kentucky is one of a majority of states that includes death as a penalty for committing a capital crime. Only 18 states and the District of Columbia do not now have an enforceable death penalty statute.
There are currently 33 Kentucky inmates on Death Row. All were sentenced to death for the crime of murder. One inmate is female; the remainder are male. The race of nearly all the inmates is Caucasian.
If the appeals process for an inmate on Death Row results in a finding that misconduct or serious errors occurred in the original trial, as has been found in 50 of 78 death sentences handed down since the 1976 reinstatement of the death penalty in Kentucky—a statistic included in a resolution submitted in 2013 to the Kentucky General Assembly—then those seeking to abolish the penalty in Kentucky primarily on a cost basis will have even firmer ground in their fight.
Does a Murder Conviction Mean a Death Sentence in Kentucky?
Kentucky Revised Statute 532.030, entitled “Authorized dispositions,” states, “When a person is convicted of a capital offense, he shall have his punishment fixed at death, or at a term of imprisonment for life without benefit of probation or parole, or at a term of imprisonment for life without benefit of probation or parole until he has served a minimum of twenty-five (25) years of his sentence, or to a sentence of life, or to a term of not less than twenty (20) years nor more than fifty (50) years.”
However, subsection (1)(a) of KRS 507.020, which defines when a person is guilty of murder, contains the exception that, “in any prosecution a person shall not be guilty under this subsection if he acted under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance for which there was a reasonable explanation or excuse.”
KRS 532.025, which was created in 1976 following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling which bifurcated consideration of capital crimes into two hearings, includes instructions for the jury to hear aggravating circumstances, such as whether:
- the person committing the offense has a prior record of conviction for a capital offense;
- the person committing the offense was also committing arson, robbery, burglary, rape, or sodomy—all in the first degree—while they were committing the capital crime;
- the person committing the offense created a great risk of death to more than one person in a public place by means of a weapon of mass destruction or other device;
- the person committing the offense did it for money, any other thing of monetary value, or other profit;
- the person committing the offense was a prisoner and the victim a prison employee;
- the offender’s act of killing was intentional and resulted in multiple deaths;
- the offender intended to kill and the victim was a state or local public official or someone engaged in performing his law enforcement duties at the time he was killed; or
- the victim was under an emergency protective order, domestic violence order, or some other protective order to protect them from the offender when the offender killed them.
The statute also requires the jury to hear mitigating circumstances, which include whether:
- the defendant has no significant history of prior criminal activity;
- the offense was committed while the defendant was extremely mentally or emotionally disturbed (even though the disturbance is not enough to create a defense of the crime);
- the victim participated in the criminal conduct or consented to the criminal act;
- the defendant believed his actions had a moral justification (even though the circumstances the defendant believed justified his actions aren’t enough to create a defense of the crime);
- the defendant was an accomplice in a capital offense committed by someone else and the defendant’s participation was relatively minor;
- the defendant acted under duress or under domination of another person (even though the duress or domination isn’t enough to constitute a defense to the crime); or
- the defendant’s capacity when the offense was committed to appreciate the criminality of his conduct was impaired by mental illness, intellectual disability, or intoxication (even though the capacity impairment isn’t enough to constitute defense).
The jury also receives instructions to consider the youth of the defendant at the time of the crime as a mitigating circumstance.
Consideration of both aggravating and mitigating circumstances may result in a murder conviction, which has a mandatory sentencing of death, life in prison without parole, or a 20-year, 25-year, or 20- to 50-year prison sentence.
What Should You Do if You’re Facing the Charge of Murder?
Murder is a capital offense, and a capital offense is any crime where an appropriate punishment may be death. If you or your loved one has been accused of murder, the time to begin building a defense is now, and your first action must be to talk with a qualified criminal defense attorney.
Dan Carman, Lexington murder defense attorney, needs to hear from you today. He is a criminal defense attorney who has experience in all facets of criminal law, and he can work with you to plan the aggressive defense you or your loved one will need. He has been admitted to practice in all Kentucky state courts, the federal courts in both the Eastern and Western Districts of Kentucky, and in the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Get in touch with Dan today by calling his office at (859)685-1055 or by filling out his online contact form.