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Kentucky had many public hangings in the nineteenth century. While outlawed in 1880, public hangings were reinstated in 1920 for rape, and then finally abolished in 1938 after a public hanging reportedly witnessed by over 20,000 people. Kentucky holds the infamous record for the most executions in one day – July 13, 1928, when seven men were executed by electrocution.

In 1964, Kentucky Governor Ned Breathitt convened a panel of distinguished Kentuckians to study the death penalty and make a recommendation regarding its use. Although the majority of that panel voted to recommend its abolition, the death penalty stayed in place. But it went unused until the Furman ruling by the U. S. Supreme Court in 1972 which struck down several states’ death penalty laws as unconstitutional. Kentucky was without the death penalty until December of 1975, when Governor Julian Carroll signed a bill reinstating the penalty.

In an effort to limit the effects of racial bias in the application of the death penalty, Kentucky adopted the “Racial Justice Act” in 1998 which allows judges in capital trials to consider whether racial bias played a role in the decision to seek or impose the death penalty. In 2000, anti-death penalty activists began a more determined push to abolish the death penalty, galvanized by the disturbing execution of Harold McQueen in 1997. A 2011 poll revealed that Kentuckians generally agree that the death penalty is costly, risks killing innocent persons, is imposed by a flawed system, and should be replaced by life without parole and other lengthy prison terms.

Kentucky Fact Sheet

For more information and ways to get involved, contact your state's organizations:

Catholic Conference of Kentucky

The Catholic Conference of Kentucky (CCK) was created in 1984 by the Roman Catholic bishops of Kentucky. Its mission is to represent the Church and the state’s four Roman Catholic dioceses in public policy matters on both the state and federal level.

Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

The Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (KCADP), a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation founded in 1987, consists of individuals and organizations working to end the death penalty in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

More Information at Death Penalty Center