General Information

Death Penalty: Yes
Date of Reinstatement (following Furman v. Georgia): January 1, 1975
Location of Death Row/Executions: Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville

Capital: Frankfort
Population:  4,339,367
Governor: Matt Bevin
Legislative Information: Senate
House of representatives


Death Sentences 1977-2015
Death Row Exonerations

DPIC's State Database for information on executions, death row population and other statistics in Kentucky

History of the Death Penalty

A one-lane bridge. Photo by Donald Vish, who offers this description of the bridge:

"For generations, this one lane bridge was governed by the iron law
of civility and regulated by the fine art of compromise. I am proud of my state
for its history and ethos of overcoming adversity and pursuit of its motto: 
United We Stand, Divided We Fall."

History of the Death Penalty

Famous capital cases

Rainey Bethea, executed August 14, 1936 at Owensboro, Kentucky, was the last public execution in America. He was publicly hanged for rape on August 14, 1936 in a parking lot in Owensboro, Kentucky (to avoid damage to the courthouse lawn by thousands of people who were expected to attend). Bethea, who was black, confessed to the rape and murder of a 70-year-old white woman named Lischia Edwards but he was never charged with murder. Murder was punishable by death in the electric chair at Eddyville while rape was punishable by public hanging in the county where the rape occurred. Prosecutors opted to go with the rape charge only. The spectacle that attended the hanging contributed to the end of public executions in the United States.

Notable Exonerations

Larry Osborne -- the youngest person on Kentucky's death row -- was acquitted upon retrial in July, 2002 for the December 1997 murders of two people. Osborne was 17 at the time of his arrest. The 1998 conviction and death sentence was overturned by a unanimous vote of the Kentucky Supreme Court and a new trial was ordered.

Milestones in abolition/reinstatement

In 1880, Kentucky abolished public hanging. In 1920, Kentucky restored public hanging for rape and provided that the sentence was to be carried out in the county where the rape occurred.

In 1938, Kentucky abolished hanging after as many as 20,000 people witnessed the August 14, 1936 hanging of Rainey Bethea.

Kentucky "firsts"
Kentucky adopted the Racial Justice Act on February 5, 1998, allowing judges to consider whether racial bias played a role in the decision to seek or impose the death penalty.
Other interesting facts

Kentucky holds the record for the most judicially authorized executions in a single day: on July 13, 1928 seven men were sequentially electrocuted in "Old Sparky" (the nickname given to the electic chair in Eddyville).


Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

American Bar Association Kentucky Death Penalty Assessment

Department of Corrections

Prosecutors Advisory Council

Department of Public Advocacy

Victims' services


 More State Pages | DPIC's State Database | Suggest Information for this State Page

Many thanks to the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty for contributing to this page.