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House panel OKs death penalty ban for some mental illnesses

February 3, 2022 GMT

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A Kentucky House committee advanced a bill Wednesday that would ban the application of the death penalty for some people diagnosed with severe mental illnesses.

The measure easily cleared the House Judiciary Committee, moving on to the full House. The bill represents the latest effort to chip away at the death penalty in Kentucky.

Republican Rep. Chad McCoy, the bill’s lead sponsor, told the panel that key state senators were consulted as the bill was crafted. Last year, a similar bill passed the House but stalled in 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.

For such defendants, McCoy said: “It doesn’t mean you’re not going to go to jail for life. It just means the death penalty is off the table.”

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The bill would not apply to defendants diagnosed later, but not at the time of the offense, with any of the disorders, McCoy said. Such defendants would remain eligible for the death penalty, he said.

Some committee members expressed frustrations with the bill’s limitations. McCoy sympathized but added: “We’ve got to crawl before we can walk, and we’ve to walk before we can run.”

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The legislation is HB269.