Kentucky House passes bill that would ban death penalty for some with previous diagnosis of severe mental illness

Published 5:48 am Thursday, February 10, 2022

The Kentucky House voted Wednesday to ban the application of the death penalty for some people diagnosed with severe mental illnesses. The measure, which advances to the Senate, represents the latest effort to chip away at the death penalty in Kentucky.

The bill won House passage on a 76-19 vote Wednesday. A similar measure cleared the House last year by a wide margin but stalled in the Senate. Republicans have supermajorities in both chambers.

GOP Rep. Chad McCoy has said key state senators were consulted as the latest bill was crafted in an attempt to win over the Senate.

Under the new version, the death penalty ban would only apply to defendants with a documented history — including a diagnosis from a mental health professional — of certain mental disorders. The disorders include schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder and delusional disorder.

“There is absolutely no way that folks get away with committing the crime,” McCoy, the bill’s lead sponsor, told the House on Wednesday. “They still go to jail for life without the possibility of parole. All we’re doing is removing the death penalty portion.”

The bill would remove the death penalty as a possible punishment for someone who — at the time of the offense — had active symptoms of the mental disorders previously diagnosed by a licensed medical provider, he said.

The bill would not apply to defendants diagnosed later, but not at the time of the offense, with any of the disorders, McCoy said recently when the measure was reviewed in committee. Such defendants would remain eligible for the death penalty, he said.
Some death penalty opponents have expressed frustrations with the bill’s limitations.

Kentucky hasn’t carried out an execution since 2008 and currently has 26 inmates on death row.