LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Scott Nelson was 17 when he died. Donata Nelson has seen 30 years pass without the man who killed her son being led into an execution chamber.
On Sept. 30, the day after the 30th anniversary of when Nelson and a friend were bound, gagged and shot in the back of the head, a federal judge struck down some of Victor Taylor’s appeals on his two death sentences for murder, kidnapping and robbery, and sodomy.
But with new legal obstacles emerging, including a national debate over lethal injection drugs, Donata Nelson, 72, doesn’t hold out much hope for a resolution.
“It gets tough,” she said, her voice breaking up. “After all these years, it doesn’t seem to ease up.”
In Kentucky, the average time between conviction and execution is 20 years - exceeding a national average of 12.8 years. Texas, which has carried out 10 executions in 2014, is the nation’s most aggressive death penalty state but has an average wait time of 15 years.
According to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, Kentucky had the second-longest wait between conviction and a death sentence being carried out as of 2012, the latest year available. As of that time, inmates lived 17 years before the sentence was carried out. Only Nevada, with 17.3 years, exceeded Kentucky’s wait time.
Twenty-one of the 34 death-row inmates in Kentucky have been awaiting execution for more than 20 years as of 2014. Six have been there three decades or more.
Kentucky has executed three people since 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to resume using the death penalty.
Aside from individual delays due to appeals, Kentucky is barred from carrying out executions while inmates challenge the way it intends to kill them. A trial in a lawsuit on that issue was scheduled for December, but after botched executions in Oklahoma and Ohio, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd in September postponed the trial indefinitely.
Then, earlier this month, Kentucky dropped its two-drug lethal injection protocol, leaving unclear how it will go forward. Regulations must be rewritten and put into place, which will take at least six months.
Katherine Nichols leads Kentuckians’ Voice for Crime Victims in Shelbyville. She said the families of victims serve “a life sentence” when a defendant is sentenced to death. Nichols organized a rally for National Homicide Remembrance Day in September and lobbied lawmakers in August at a hearing on the future of capital punishment in Kentucky to speed up the process and keep the death penalty as an option for prosecutors.
“Not only is there bad in this world, there is downright pure evil,” Nichols said. “Trust me, I have seen it with my own eyes. The death penalty needs to be an option for some people.”
Kenton County Commonwealth Attorney Rob Sanders, a proponent of carrying out death sentences, said lawmakers should push the judiciary to move cases faster. He said that would reduce the financial and emotional toll.
“There’s no reason appeals should languish for decades,” Sanders said. “We should be stepping on the gas, not the brakes.”
It has cost the state at least $986,000 over the last three decades to house Taylor. Feeding and housing the entire death-row population cost $947,800 in 2014.
One inmate finds the wait frustrating.
“If you are going to have a death penalty, then use it,” said Randy Haight, 62. He is awaiting execution for the 1985 killings of Patricia Vance and David Omer near Herrington Lake in Garrad County.
For the Nelsons, anger and sadness are part of their daily lives.
“It’s a feeling you shouldn’t have,” said Donata Nelson, who described her son and his friend, Richard Stephenson, as “good kids, but a bit naive.” ”The chain has been broken.”
Taylor did not respond to two letters sent to him at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville by The Associated Press. His attorney, Thomas Ransdell of Frankfort, declined to comment.
Taylor, twice a parolee from state prison at age 24, and his cousin, George Wade, agreed to lead Nelson and Stephenson to DuPont Manual High School in Louisville for a football game if they could have a ride. The teens were taken to a vacant lot near Interstate 65, forced to strip, hand over their property and bound and gagged. Taylor sexually assaulted one of the teens and both were shot.
Two weeks after the slayings, police arrested Taylor and Wade after a family member of Wade’s reported being given a jacket from Trinity High, which Nelson and Stephenson attended. A jury delivered death sentences for Taylor after a 13-week trial; Wade is serving a life sentence.
Donata and Emery Nelson, 77, are determined to see their son’s killer brought to the execution chamber. Their anger at Taylor bubbles over with the talk of delays and frustration by inmates.
“I would solve their problem real easy, if I could,” Emery Nelson said.
Follow Associated Press reporter Brett Barrouquere on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BBarrouquereAP
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