LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Jefferson County prosecutors will be more selective when seeking the death penalty.
The Courier-Journal reports (http://cjky.it/X3udL2) that for more than 15 years prosecutors have had a policy of seeking the death penalty in every murder case that qualified for it, unless there was a compelling reason not to.
Defense attorneys have long complained that the aggressive policy was a waste of time and money.
Newly elected Commonwealth's Attorney Tom Wine told the newspaper his office will begin looking at several factors when deciding whether to seek the death penalty. They include the likelihood of jurors recommending the death sentence in a particular case.
"I feel like I'm given a certain amount of discretion, and I plan to exercise that discretion," Wine said.
While prosecutors have sought the death penalty dozens of times over the years, the last time a Jefferson Circuit Court jury agreed was in December 2004. And defense attorneys say that case was not typical because the defendant, Sherman Noble, represented himself through much of the trial.
Chief Jefferson County public defender Dan Goyette said that some of the cases in which prosecutors have sought the death penalty were so weak that the defendants were eventually acquitted or found not guilty.
Public defender Mike Lemke said that he spent 15 months preparing a 2009 case in which a client faced a possible death sentence. In the end, the case was settled during jury selection with the defendant agreeing to accept a sentence of the three years. He had already served that time in jail awaiting trial and was released that day.
Wine's predecessor, Dave Stengel, said in an interview that he was simply following state law in seeking the death penalty for eligible cases. The law allows the death penalty when a murder is committed in combination with a number of aggravating factors such as kidnapping or robbery.
Stengel also said that filing a notice that prosecutors will seek the death penalty is a good negotiating tool to get defendants to plead guilty and accept long prison terms, thus saving time and money.
"If you were facing the death penalty, wouldn't you think awfully hard about accepting a plea?" Stengel said.
Information from: The Courier-Journal, http://www.courier-journal.com