Bill would make life without parole minimum penalty for killing a cop

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By Randy Patrick
The Kentucky Standard

Rep. David Floyd, R-Bardstown, has filed a bill in the state legislature that would make the minimum penalty for killing a peace officer life without parole.
House Bill 368, if it becomes law, would be named The Officer Jason Ellis Memorial Act in honor of the 33-year-old Bardstown police officer who was ambushed and murdered last May on the Bluegrass Parkway on his way home from work.
“I want to ensure that anyone who is convicted for intentionally murdering a police officer … is never set free,” Floyd told The Kentucky Standard Thursday. “Most of all, I want to keep attention on the case regarding Officer Ellis because no one has been caught, people tend to turn attention to other daily concerns, and we should never forget.”
Floyd and Rep. Sal Santoro, R-Florence, introduced the bill in the House on Feb. 11, and it was assigned to the Judiciary Committee the next day. It would amend KRS 507.020 to “retain only the two highest sentencing options” for homicide when the “killing is intentional and the victim is a police officer, sheriff or deputy sheriff acting in the line of duty,” according to a summary of the bill on the Legislative Research Commission’s website, lrc.ky.gov.
The only penalty higher than life without parole is the death penalty. A few days before introducing the Ellis Act proposal, Floyd introduced a bill to abolish the death penalty in all circumstances and replace it with life imprisonment without parole or life without parole for 25 years.
Reactions to Floyd’s proposal were mostly supportive but nuanced.
Bardstown City Councilman John Royalty, a former city police officer, said he agrees with Floyd that the minimum sentence should be tougher, but the bill should be broadened to include the killing of police officers that are off duty, as Ellis was the night he was gunned down.
“It should not be limited to while he’s performing his duty,” Royalty said. “If an officer is murdered while sitting and watching his TV, it should still go.”
Nelson County Attorney Matthew Hite issued a statement in favor of Floyd’s proposal.
“The Nelson County Attorney’s Office fully supports any legislation that makes the murder of our law enforcement officers subject to the highest possible penalties,” Hite said.
Nelson Circuit Judge Charles Simms, because of rules regarding judicial independence, could not comment on a specific case or say whether or not he supported the proposal, but he said it would make it difficult for prosecutors to get guilty pleas from accused cop killers.
“If that were to become the law, you’d have to try every case,” he said.
Not being able to plea bargain cases was also a concern of criminal defense attorneys who commented on the proposal.
Jason Floyd, the representative’s nephew, said he hadn’t discussed the bill with him before it was filed.
“I can see the pros and cons of it,” he said. “We have had some horrific police officer killings in recent years.”
“We’ve got to deter people from simply pulling the guns out on police,” he remarked.
On the other hand, the attorney said, he is “always a little bit nervous about laws that change the flexibility that judges and prosecutors have in running their courtrooms.”
“It doesn’t leave a whole lot of bargaining or negotiating room,” he added.
Jason Floyd’s law partner, Doug Hubbard, said he thought the bill would also hamstring juries, but he understood Floyd’s motivation. The tragedy of Ellis’ death, he said, underscores the danger police officers put themselves in constantly.
Ed Monahan, Kentucky’s public advocate, said he has “great respect” for Floyd and that he has never worked with “a more well-intentioned individual” than the Bardstown lawmaker. He strongly supports his death penalty abolition bill, he said. But he doesn’t agree with Floyd on the minimum penalties bill.
“I wouldn’t want to restrict the jury to just the two most severe penalties,” he said.
Besides hindering jurors in decision-making and lawyers in negotiating pleas, he said, there are often mitigating factors in murder cases, such as mental illness or the killer’s belief, even if it’s unfounded, that he acted in self-defense.
In such cases, Monahan said, “death or life imprisonment would be too harsh.”
Editor’s note: Reprinted through the Kentucky Press News Service.