High court hears death penalty cases in front of Somerset audience

The Kentucky Supreme Court took the show to the Center for Rural Development in Somerset on Thursday to hear oral arguments on three Fayette County death penalty cases involving young adults.

One involves Travis Bredhold, who was 18 when he was charged with murder, robbery, theft and other charges, stemming from a 2013 incident where a convenience store clerk was shot to death. The others involve a 2017 shooting, with Efrain Diaz, 20 at the time, and Justin Smith, then 18, both indicted for murder and robbery.

In all three cases, Fayette Circuit judge Ernesto Scorsone ruled that a scientific consensus has emerged that the brains of older adolescents, those aged 18 to 20, suffered from the same psychological and neurological deficiencies as juvenile offenders, and held Kentucky’s death penalty was unconstitutional.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Krygiel, who argued against the ruling, said: “It is solely the prerogative of the United State Supreme Court to overrule their precedent. Regardless of whether there’s a subsequent decision that undermines the rationale of an opinion, it is still their decision alone. Judge Ernesto Scorsone of the Fayette Circuit Court abused his power when he decided that 18- to 20-year-olds were exempt from the death penalty.”

Krygiel also noted, “There is not a single law in the country, federal law, state law, anywhere, that exempts 18- to 20-year-olds. There is nothing.”

He was asked by justices if the science hadn’t progressed and developed in developmental issues of young brains that led the U. S. Supreme Court in a 2005 case to ban the death penalty for those under 18 as cruel and unusual punishment.

Krygiel admitted expert testimony in Fayette Circuit Court said the brain doesn’t develop and mature until the age of 24. “However, there’s a lot more information from his testimony that is critically important when you’re determining that just because that development hasn’t finished, doesn’t necessarily mean that those individuals in the 18 to 20 range should be exempt from the death penalty.”

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