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Kansas Capital Punishment News
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  1. #1
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    Kansas Capital Punishment News

    Appeals keep executions a long way off

    Topeka — Kansas legislators recently completed an exhaustive review of the death penalty that resulted in a 20-20 vote in the Senate that left capital punishment on the books.

    But an actual execution in Kansas of someone on Death Row won’t happen for years, if ever.

    “It’s impossible to determine” when an execution will be carried out, said Rebecca Woodman, who is an attorney with the Capital Appellate Defender Office for the State Board of Indigents’ Defense Services. “It could be years. It could be never,” she said.

    Kansas reinstated the death penalty in 1994. Since then, 12 men have been sentenced to death. Of those, one sentence was removed at the request of the district attorney, two have had their sentences vacated by the Kansas Supreme Court and others remain in the early stages of appeals.

    The appeals process in death penalty cases is greater than any other.

    A death sentence triggers a mandatory review by the Kansas Supreme Court. After that there are other avenues of review, and then there are appeals before the federal judiciary, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    For example, the first man sentenced to death in Kansas after reinstatement of the penalty was Gary Kleypas, who was convicted in 1997 of the rape and slaying of Pittsburg State University student Carrie Williams.

    His death sentence was overturned in 2001 after the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that jury instructions were faulty. His sentencing case didn’t happen until 2008 when a jury once again recommended the death penalty.

    The seven years between the high court ruling in the Kleypas case and another sentencing trial occurred because of another death penalty case — that of Michael Marsh.

    In that case, the Kansas Supreme Court struck down the state’s death penalty law because of its requirement that when a jury considering capital punishment finds pro and con factors to be equal, it must choose the death penalty. In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the Kansas Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote.

    Now, the Kleypas case is on direct appeal to the Kansas Supreme Court. Woodman said it may be years before the court considers the case because of other death penalty cases that have since been put in the pipeline.

    Despite the lengthy process, Kansas Attorney General Steve Six supports the death penalty.

    “Death penalty litigation should be viewed as a marathon and not a sprint,” Six said. “Families of victims, prosecutors and law enforcement officers understand how important this statute is to our criminal justice system. Some crimes are just too heinous and cruel to receive a lesser sentence

    http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2010/mar/01/appeals-keep-executions-long-way/

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    Kansas House Introduces Bill to Abolish the Death Penalty

    TOPEKA -- The Kansas House of Representatives introduced HB 2323, a bill to abolish the state’s death penalty. The House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee sponsored the bill.
    HB 2323 will replace the Kansas death penalty with life in prison without parole as the sentence for the crime of aggravated murder.

    “This legislation will enable Kansas law enforcement officials to use the existing sentence of life without parole to hold offenders accountable for their crimes and protect the public safety without the unacceptable risk of executing an innocent person,” said Donna Schneweis, the Board Chair of the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty.

    In Kansas capital cases to date, there have been well documented errors, including judicial error, jury misconduct, prosecutorial misconduct, withheld evidence, jury instruction issues and ineffective assistance of counsel. The Kansas Supreme Court has vacated three death sentences due to such errors.

    “The death penalty is rife with problems beyond those in the court room,” said Carolyn Zimmerman, of Topeka, whose father was murdered in January 1969.

    “The death penalty continues to impact the victims’ families long after a crime has occurred. A capital trial only prolongs a family’s pain and trauma, and rarely brings the closure families long for,” said Zimmerman.

    Last year, the Kansas Senate nearly voted to abolish the death penalty. The legislation failed on a 20-20 vote.

    “States across the country are recognizing the flaws of the death penalty. This legislation is the next step to ending this broken, inconsistent policy in Kansas,” said Schneweis.

    http://www.wibw.com/politics/headlin...115986009.html

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    Kan. AG's office defends death penalty after challenge posed in Great Bend teen's killing case

    Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt's office is defending the constitutionality of the state's death penalty law from a challenge raised in the case against the Great Bend man accused of killing a teenager whose charred body was found at an asphalt plant.

    In preparation for a hearing Tuesday in Great Bend, state prosecutors filed their written responses late Friday afternoon to the death penalty challenge and other motions the defense had mostly filed in January. The move came after questions were raised as to why no written responses to the defense motions had yet been made despite Barton County Judge Hannelore Kitt's standing order requiring the state to do so in the death penalty case against Adam Joseph Longoria.

    "I think we are in compliance," Deputy Attorney General Victor Braden said after the filings. "We are ready for Tuesday and we will see how it goes."

    Longoria faces capital murder and criminal sodomy charges in the August killing of 14-year-old Alicia DeBolt.

    The attorneys with the Kansas Death Penalty Defense Unit who represent Longoria, Jeffrey Wicks and Tim Frieden, did not return a message left at their office Friday seeking comment.

    Death penalty prosecutions are handled in two phases. First is the trial to determine whether a suspect is guilty. If convicted, the next step is a penalty phase to determine whether the crime warrants the death sentence. In the second phase, jurors consider aggravating factors such as whether a killing was especially heinous and mitigating factors such as whether a defendant lacked a previous significant criminal record.

    Longoria's defense has argued the death penalty in the state is unconstitutional because so-called relaxed evidentiary standards allow the government too much leeway in the type of evidence they can present for aggravating factors. The defense also separately challenged the law on the basis that death penalty verdicts are ambiguous and unreliable since they do not require the jury to disclose the considerations that motivated the death sentence and what weight jurors gave to any mitigating evidence.

    Defense attorneys also noted the death penalty has been upheld by the Kansas Supreme Court and acknowledged they were filing the request to preserve the issue for future appeals.

    The state's responses were faxed to Great Bend so late on Friday that they were not available on the court's website. Braden declined to email the documents, citing a previous court order that had set up the website for public access.

    Ron Keefover, chief information officer with the Office of Judicial Administration, told the AP that statutorily in Kansas written responses are due within five days of a motion's filing, although parties are not required to file responses. Keefover, the media liaison for the Great Bend case, acknowledged that in the Longoria case the judge specifically ordered prosecutors to file written responses to all defense motions.

    Braden disputed that there was any such five-day response requirement, insisting he could have hand-carried his written motions to court on Tuesday had he wanted to do so.

    The death penalty case against Longoria was filed by former Attorney General Steve Six, who personally prosecuted it until losing his election bid. He was assisted in the case by Deputy Attorney General Barry Disney, who also left the state attorney general's office during the transition.

    Six has since been nominated by President Barack Obama for a seat on the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, and Disney has accepted a job with the U.S. attorney's office.

    Court filings show that when Six was handling the case prosecutors responded in writing within days to defense motions.

    Barton County Attorney Doug Matthews said in an email that he has "every confidence" in Braden as well the new attorney general and his staff to handle the prosecution.

    "I've attended several meeting with Mr. Braden and the other AG staff who are working on the prosecution of the case, and have been greatly impressed with the time and energy they've committed," Matthews said.

    Both Six and Schmidt said during their election campaigns last year that they supported the death penalty.

    But the election upset left the attorney general's office scrambling to replace the prosecutors who filed the charges.

    Braden took over prosecution of the case in late December during the transition. Assistant Attorney General Andrew Bauch entered his appearance in it last week.

    Unlike his predecessor, Schmidt is not personally prosecuting the Longoria case.

    "Attorney General Schmidt decided to appoint the head of the criminal division, Vic Braden, a career prosecutor, to lead the case," said Jeff Wagaman, spokesman for the Kansas attorney general's office. "Vic has extensive experience prosecuting homicide cases, and he led the prosecution team in the last death penalty verdict case in Kansas."

    http://www.therepublic.com/view/stor...s-Teen-Killed/

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    The process of Kansas execution

    Death will come at 11 a.m. on their execution date for all Kansas prison inmates condemned for capital murder.

    The warden, chaplain and correctional officers serving on an execution strapdown team will enter the condemned inmate's holding cell on the fourth floor of an administration building at Lansing Correctional Facility.

    The warden will read the order of execution.

    The prisoner will be escorted to the lethal injection chamber on that same floor, strapped onto a gurney and allowed to make a final statement, which the warden will write down to be released later to the media.

    Prison officials will confirm there is no reason to stop the execution, then open curtains to the injection chamber so witnesses can watch.

    Those steps are part of the 57-page protocol for carrying out executions that the Kansas Department of Corrections has had in place since 2001.

    Eight Kansas inmates, all men, face death sentences.

    That number would rise by one if an Osage County judge on Oct. 11 follows the guidance a jury provided this past week.

    Jurors recommended James Kraig Kahler, 48, be executed for capital murder in the November 2009 gunshot slayings of his estranged wife, their two teenaged daughters and his wife's grandmother.

    None of those facing death sentences in Kansas figures to go to the execution gurney any time soon.

    This state, where the last execution took place by hanging in 1965, hasn't put anyone to death since its law allowing for capital punishment by lethal injection took effect in 1994.

    All inmates currently facing death sentences are pursuing appeals they have yet to exhaust, and none has ever seen an execution date set.

    The condemned include Gary Kleypas, who in 1998 became the first person sentenced to death under the current law after he was convicted of the 1996 murder of a Pittsburg State University student.

    The Kansas Supreme Court vacated Kleypas' sentence for legal reasons in 2001 before he was again sentenced to death in the same case in 2008.

    The inmates with the longest-standing current death sentences are brothers Jonathan and Reginald Carr, condemned in 2002 for capital murder committed two years earlier in the deaths of three young men and a young woman in Wichita. The Carrs also were sentenced to life imprisonment for a separate, unrelated murder.

    Kansas legislators supporting capital punishment have been quick to cite the Carrs' crimes when that topic comes up for debate.

    The Kansas Senate in a 20-20 vote in February 2010 rejected a bill that would have abolished the death penalty for murders committed after July 1 of that year while leaving it in place for cases where a death sentence had already been imposed.

    A bill that would have made those same moves was introduced this year in the Kansas House but never received a hearing in its Federal and State Affairs Committee.

    Meanwhile, Lansing Correctional Facility warden David McCune says the corrections department — rather than maintaining a specific "death row" — chooses to keep its capital inmates in administrative segregation at El Dorado Correctional Facility.

    McCune said no specific death row was established because the feeling was that the administrative segregation unit at El Dorado was an appropriate security level for inmates being held on a death sentence.

    Corrections department spokesman Jan Lunsford said those in administrative segregation, including inmates who aren't facing death sentences, are locked alone in their cells for all but one hour five times a week, when they are allowed to come out and exercise by themselves in a secure pen.

    Lunsford said inmates in administrative segregation also are allowed out of the cells in restraints when they are taken to shower alone.

    Lunsford said seven of the state's capital inmates are at El Dorado while one — Scott Cheever, convicted in the 2005 slaying of Greenwood County Sheriff Matt Samuels — is at Lansing. Cheever is at Lansing because victims of his crime are employed at the El Dorado facility, McCune said.

    The decision to house capital inmates at one prison and execute them at another was made to benefit staff members who take care of those prisoners on a long-term basis, then-Kansas Corrections Secretary Chuck Simmons told The Topeka Capital-Journal in 2001.

    "An execution is something that has a certain amount of impact on all of the staff who participate," Simmons said.

    He spoke at a 2001 media event where the state showed reporters the lethal injection chamber it had completed the previous year on the top floor of a four-story administration building at Lansing Correctional Facility. The building previously had been declared structurally unsound and stood vacant for 20 years before the state renovated it.

    Corrections officials at the event also displayed an 8-foot-by-10-foot holding cell on the building's top floor where condemned inmates are to spend their final days.

    They said each condemned prisoner would be allowed a last meal of either the regular fare served that day to the other inmates at Lansing or something costing no more than $15 from a Lansing restaurant.

    Corrections officials said the execution would be witnessed by people in three rooms, including one containing as many as three people invited by the inmate, who would be able to see them through the glass.

    They said the inmate wouldn't be able to see those in the other rooms, which would contain family members of the victims and representatives of the news media and the government.

    The execution protocol adopted 10 years ago remains in place, Lunsford said.

    He provided The Capital-Journal a copy of that protocol. For security reasons, redactions had been made to all or part of 35 of the document's 57 pages.

    The protocol calls for a team of Lansing Correctional Facility officials to travel one week before the execution date to the prison where the condemned inmate is being kept.

    The inmate then will be transferred to the building housing the lethal injection chamber at Lansing.

    Lunsford said the building's fourth floor has gone unused over the past 10 years, through its lower three floors have been used on a daily basis for administrative functions.

    On the day of the execution, the protocol calls for an injection team and a strapdown team of corrections department employees to help carry out the sentence. Lunsford said the state has yet to determine which employees will serve on those.

    The protocol calls for the injection team to prepare all injection drugs on the morning the sentence is to be carried out.

    At execution time, protocol calls for one intravenous tube each to be placed in the right and left arms of the condemned inmate.

    The inmate will then be injected with sodium pentothol, to make him unconscious; pancuronium bromide, to halt breathing; and potassium chloride, to stop the heart.

    The sole American manufacturer of sodium pentothol, also known as sodium thiopenal, announced in January it would no longer produce the drug.

    The move was expected to force some states to adopt new drug combinations for lethal injection and to delay further executions, some of which had already been moved back because of the drug's limited supply.

    McCune said Friday that the state of Kansas has yet to obtain the chemicals it will need to carry out executions by lethal injection

    “We do not stock any of these drugs as they have expiration shelf lives,” he said.

    http://cjonline.com/news/local/2011-...n#.TmKCYGPLq_I

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    Bill abolishing death penalty to get cursory glance

    A House bill that would abolish the death penalty in Kansas and add the crime of aggravated murder with a sentencing of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole will receive an informational hearing Thursday, but it is doubtful any action will be taken.

    Kansas had the death penalty statute until a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling struck it down, but the court reversed its decision in 1976. Kansas reinstated the death penalty in 1994. The state hasn’t carried out a death sentence since then, but nine Kansas capital inmates are currently awaiting execution with an additional capital inmate awaiting resentencing.

    During the 2011 legislative session, the House bill to repeal the death penalty statute for crimes committed after July 1, 2012, and replace the punishment with life without the possibility of parole never received a hearing by the Federal and State Affairs Committee. Two separate Senate bills would have abolished the death penalty, but neither made it far. During the 2010 legislative session, the Senate was one vote short of passing a death penalty abolishment bill.

    The bill, HB 2323, was introduced by the House Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice on Feb. 11, 2011, before being referred to Federal and State Affairs three days later. It didn't receive a hearing last year, but on Friday, Rep. Pat Colloton’s secretary said the bill had been scheduled for an informational hearing before the federal and state affairs committee Thursday. Colloton, a Leawood Republican, is chairwoman of the corrections committee.

    The last time an execution was carried out in Kansas was in 1965, when Perry Edward Smith and Richard Eugene Hickock were hanged by the state for the brutal murders of four members of the Clutter family in 1959 in Holcomb. Truman Capote wrote about the murders in the famous work titled “In Cold Blood.”

    The current death penalty statute was enacted in 1994 when Gov. Joan Finney allowed it to become law without her signature.

    The nine inmates awaiting execution in Kansas are:

    ■ James Kraig Kahler, convicted in October 2011 of murdering his estranged wife, Karen Kahler; two teenage daughters, Lauren and Emily; and Karen’s grandmother, Dorothy Wight, in Wight’s Burlingame home in November 2009.

    ■ Douglas Belt, convicted in November 2004 of capital murder, attempted rape and aggravated arson in the killing of Lucille Gallegos in Wichita. According to the Kansas Department of Corrections’ KASPER records, he is being held at El Dorado Correctional Facility.

    ■ Reginald Carr, convicted of capital murder for the December 15, 2000, murders of Jason Befort, Brad Heyka, Heather Muller and Aaron Sander and of first-degree murder for killing Ann Walenta four days before the quadruple murder. He is being held at El Dorado.

    ■ Jonathan Carr, convicted of the same five murders as his older brother Reginald. He is being held at El Dorado.

    ■ Scott Cheever, convicted in November 2007 of killing Greenwood County Sheriff Matt Samuels in January 2005. He is being held at Lansing.

    ■ Sidney John Gleason, convicted in July 2006 in the shooting deaths of Miki Martinez and Darren Wormkey in February 2004. He is being held at El Dorado.

    ■ Gary Wayne Kleypas, convicted for the 1996 rape and murder of Carrie Williams in Pittsburg. He is being held at El Dorado.

    ■ John Edward Robinson Sr., convicted of capital murder in the deaths of Izabel Lewicka and Suzette Trouten and of first-degree murder in the case of Lisa Stasi, who disappeared in 1985 and was never found. He is being held at El Dorado.

    ■ Justin Thurber, sentenced to death for the January 2007 killing of 19-year-old college student Jodi Sanderholm. He is being held at El Dorado.

    A 10th death sentence, that of Phillip Cheatham, is under litigation. Cheaver was convicted in September 2005 of one count of capital murder, two counts of first degree murder and one count of attempted first degree murder in the deaths of Gloria Jones and Annette Roberson. A third victim, Annetta Thomas, played dead and survived with 19 gunshot wounds. In 2010 he was granted resentencing, which hasn’t yet been completed. He is being held at Lansing Correctional Facility.

    http://cjonline.com/news/2012-03-11/...cursory-glance

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    The reporter gets it wrong when he/she states that the murderers of the Clutter family were the last inmates to be executed in Kansas. "George Ronald York and James Douglas Latham (both died June 22, 1965) were an American spree killer team who are the most recent individuals executed by the U.S. state of Kansas."

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_...d_James_Latham

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    Bill abolishing death penalty to get cursory glance

    A House bill that would abolish the death penalty in Kansas and add the crime of aggravated murder with a sentencing of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole will receive an informational hearing Thursday, but it is doubtful any action will be taken.

    Kansas had the death penalty statute until a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling struck it down, but the court reversed its decision in 1976. Kansas reinstated the death penalty in 1994. The state hasn’t carried out a death sentence since then, but nine Kansas capital inmates are currently awaiting execution with an additional capital inmate awaiting resentencing.

    During the 2011 legislative session, the House bill to repeal the death penalty statute for crimes committed after July 1, 2012, and replace the punishment with life without the possibility of parole never received a hearing by the Federal and State Affairs Committee. Two separate Senate bills would have abolished the death penalty, but neither made it far. During the 2010 legislative session, the Senate was one vote short of passing a death penalty abolishment bill.

    The bill, HB 2323, was introduced by the House Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice on Feb. 11, 2011, before being referred to Federal and State Affairs three days later. It didn't receive a hearing last year, but on Friday, Rep. Pat Colloton’s secretary said the bill had been scheduled for an informational hearing before the federal and state affairs committee Thursday. Colloton, a Leawood Republican, is chairwoman of the corrections committee.

    The last time an execution was carried out in Kansas was in 1965, when Perry Edward Smith and Richard Eugene Hickock were hanged by the state for the brutal murders of four members of the Clutter family in 1959 in Holcomb. Truman Capote wrote about the murders in the famous work titled “In Cold Blood.”

    The current death penalty statute was enacted in 1994 when Gov. Joan Finney allowed it to become law without her signature.

    The nine inmates awaiting execution in Kansas are:

    ■ James Kraig Kahler, convicted in October 2011 of murdering his estranged wife, Karen Kahler; two teenage daughters, Lauren and Emily; and Karen’s grandmother, Dorothy Wight, in Wight’s Burlingame home in November 2009.

    ■ Douglas Belt, convicted in November 2004 of capital murder, attempted rape and aggravated arson in the killing of Lucille Gallegos in Wichita. According to the Kansas Department of Corrections’ KASPER records, he is being held at El Dorado Correctional Facility.

    ■ Reginald Carr, convicted of capital murder for the December 15, 2000, murders of Jason Befort, Brad Heyka, Heather Muller and Aaron Sander and of first-degree murder for killing Ann Walenta four days before the quadruple murder. He is being held at El Dorado.

    ■ Jonathan Carr, convicted of the same five murders as his older brother Reginald. He is being held at El Dorado.

    ■ Scott Cheever, convicted in November 2007 of killing Greenwood County Sheriff Matt Samuels in January 2005. He is being held at Lansing.

    ■ Sidney John Gleason, convicted in July 2006 in the shooting deaths of Miki Martinez and Darren Wormkey in February 2004. He is being held at El Dorado.

    ■ Gary Wayne Kleypas, convicted for the 1996 rape and murder of Carrie Williams in Pittsburg. He is being held at El Dorado.

    ■ John Edward Robinson Sr., convicted of capital murder in the deaths of Izabel Lewicka and Suzette Trouten and of first-degree murder in the case of Lisa Stasi, who disappeared in 1985 and was never found. He is being held at El Dorado.

    ■ Justin Thurber, sentenced to death for the January 2007 killing of 19-year-old college student Jodi Sanderholm. He is being held at El Dorado.

    A 10th death sentence, that of Phillip Cheatham, is under litigation. Cheaver was convicted in September 2005 of one count of capital murder, two counts of first degree murder and one count of attempted first degree murder in the deaths of Gloria Jones and Annette Roberson. A third victim, Annetta Thomas, played dead and survived with 19 gunshot wounds. In 2010 he was granted resentencing, which hasn’t yet been completed. He is being held at Lansing Correctional Facility.

    http://cjonline.com/news/2012-06-06/...cursory-glance
    An uninformed opponent is a dangerous opponent.

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    Bill introduced to abolish death penalty in Kansas

    A bill was introduced Thursday that would abolish the death penalty in Kansas.

    State Rep. Steven Becker, R-Buhler, said the bill would replace capital punishment with a sentence of life without parole.

    The measure would also establish a fund for anticipated savings from eliminating the death penalty, and use those savings to assist families of homicide victims.

    The last time the Kansas Legislature debated repeal of the death penalty was in 2010 when the Senate voted 20-20 to abolish capital punishment. That was one vote less than the 21-vote majority needed to advance the measure.

    Kansas reinstated the death penalty in 1994, but no executions have been carried out since then.

    Supporters of abolishing the death penalty say it requires extra funding to litigate death penalty cases, which robs dollars from other budget needs.

    Becker's bill was introduced before the House Federal and State Affairs Committee.

    http://www2.ljworld.com/weblogs/capi...death-penalty/

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    Rep's death penalty repeal effort stalled for now

    By Andy Marso
    THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL
    Andy Marso
    March 25, 2013 5:44 PM EDT

    The House gave initial approval Monday to two bills regarding the death penalty — but neither was the one Rep. Steven Becker, R-Buhler, ultimately wants to see come up for a vote.

    Becker introduced a bill in early March that would banish capital punishment from Kansas, replacing it with a sentence of life in prison without parole. With the session winding down, Becker said Monday his bill will be staying in the House Federal and State Committee until next year.

    "I've been assured it will be given a hearing, but it will be next session," Becker said Monday. "I absolutely have not given up on that. I will be pushing that."

    The death penalty has been abolished and reinstated in Kansas three times. No executions have occurred since it was most recently reinstated in 1994.

    Becker, a former judge, said he always has been opposed to capital punishment as part of his value system and his religious faith. But he said it was his professional experience that spurred him to take action.

    "What triggered my doing something about it is my career in the criminal justice system and seeing how imperfect it is," Becker said. "I cannot justify having death as part of an imperfect criminal justice system."

    Becker said the possibility of the state presiding over the execution of an innocent person haunts him.

    "Just the possibility is totally unacceptable," Becker said.

    Becker's bill would apply only to crimes committed after June 30, 2013. In addition to ending the death penalty in Kansas, House Bill 2397 would establish a victim's assistance fund from the savings created by decreased judicial costs.

    The state agency that provides funds for defense attorneys for Kansans who can’t afford them estimates the bill would save $157,000 in staff reductions immediately and savings from fewer appeals could approach $100,000 per year.

    Becker said he has talked to Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, who has mounted similar death penalty repeal efforts in the Senate. The last time that body voted on repeal, in 2010, the measure failed by one vote.

    Several states, including Colorado, Arizona and Delaware, are considering repeal this year, and advocates have pointed to Maryland lawmakers' recent approval of repeal as a sign that the movement has momentum.

    "I would love to see something similar here," Becker said.

    The death penalty-related bills approved by the House on Monday were House Bill 2387 and House Bill 2389. HB 2387 would specify that first-degree murder while committing or fleeing from another dangerous felony would be treated similarly to premeditated first-degree murder. HB 2389 would extend to the Kansas attorney general the authority to file a notice of intent to seek the death penalty in cases in which the local prosecutor has a conflict.

    http://cjonline.com/news/2013-03-25/...rt-stalled-now

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    The Kansas death penalty has cobwebs

    By DAVE HELLING The Kansas City Star

    It may be weeks before Kansans know if prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Kyle Flack, accused of killing four people in Franklin County this spring.

    It will take far longer — 10 years or more — before anyone in the state is actually put to death for a crime.

    And that time gap, advocates on both sides of the death penalty debate say, suggests the state remains deeply uneasy about the punishment — an ambivalence that muddies its value.

    “When a law isn’t applied, it isn’t really a law,” said David Muhlhausen, a death penalty supporter and expert with the conservative Heritage Foundation.

    Capital punishment opponents aren’t eager to speed up executions, of course. But they say the state’s lengthy death penalty procedure is costing taxpayers millions of dollars in legal fees and other expenses without significantly improving public safety.

    “Constituents have said to me, ‘We have a theoretical death penalty, but we don’t carry it out in practice,’” said Mary Sloan, executive director of the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty.

    “So if we’re not going to carry it out in practice, why do we pay all that cost?”

    No one has been put to death in Kansas since 1965.

    “Kansas is 10 years and $20 million away from its first execution,” predicted lawyer and capital punishment opponent Sean O’Brien of Kansas City.

    But death penalty supporters say the state’s ultimate sanction shouldn’t be judged solely by the number of times it’s actually used. The mere threat of death — or decades locked in isolation, waiting for death — plays an important role, they say, in the state’s justice system.

    An uneven history

    Kansas lawmakers reinstated the state’s death penalty in 1994. Since then, 13 men have been condemned to death for murder. All remain alive. Only nine sit on the state’s death row, according to the Kansas Department of Corrections’ website. The others’ sentences were reduced after appeals and plea agreements, or have been vacated pending a new trial.

    Since 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court validated rewritten capital punishment laws, only two states with death penalty statutes — Kansas and New Hampshire — have not executed a single inmate.

    The long gap between capital crime and capital punishment in Kansas is the result of several interlocking factors, experts say.

    The state’s death penalty law is narrow, providing a way for even the most brutal killers to escape the punishment. Some prosecutors use the death penalty more as a negotiating tool than a criminal sanction, and some politicians remain ambivalent about executions, as do many residents in the state.

    And the courts play a critical role.

    All death sentences in Kansas are automatically reviewed by the state’s Supreme Court. It’s uniquely allowed to “scour the record” for trial and sentencing errors in capital cases, even those not raised by defense lawyers. That further raises the chances for delays.

    In January, the state Supreme Court ordered a new trial for Phillip Cheatham, who faced the death penalty for a 2003 double homicide in Topeka. Cheatham, the court found, was poorly defended by his lawyer.

    Kansas Sen. Greg Smith of Overland Park — whose daughter Kelsey was murdered — holds the state’s judges responsible for the lack of executions in Kansas.

    “It’s constitutional,” he said. “It’s just we have a lack of judicial will to use it.”

    The state’s highest court delayed executions in the last decade by deciding the Kansas death sentencing procedure was constitutionally flawed. In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to overrule that opinion and reinstate capital punishment in Kansas.

    “The American people have determined that the good to be derived from capital punishment … outweighs the risk of error,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the case. “It is no proper part of the business of this Court, or of its Justices, to second-guess that judgment.”

    But the decision didn’t entirely settle the matter.

    This fall, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider Kansas death row inmate Scott Cheever’s case — he claims his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination was violated during his trial and sentencing for killing a sheriff.

    Lawyers who work with death penalty defendants say those multilevel appeal rights in state and federal courts are important and unavoidable, regardless of length.

    “These cases are looked at closely, for due process,” said Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C. “If there’s any problem, it has to be done over.”

    That means sharply higher legal costs, for investigations, defense lawyers and appeals arguments.

    In 2003, a legislative audit examined the state’s death penalty expenses in the previous decade. Kansas, the audit found, had spent or would spend almost $20 million on its 14 death penalty cases, including cases where the death penalty was sought but not granted.

    By contrast, taxpayers spent $6.3 million on eight cases where the prosecutors did not ask for death in a murder case.

    The most expensive death penalty case involved Johnson County’s John E. Robinson Sr., convicted on two capital murder counts. Ten years ago, the state said Robinson’s case would cost taxpayers $2.4 million, a bill that has continued to grow.

    “Nobody in his right mind defends the death penalty because it saves money, anywhere, anytime, under any circumstances,” O’Brien said. “Because it doesn’t.”

    Continued debate

    Arguments over safety versus cost play out regularly in state legislatures across the country.

    Earlier this month, Maryland repealed its death penalty statute. Nebraska’s repeal effort fell short this spring because of a filibuster, even though a majority of the state’s one-house legislature indicated support for repeal.

    Today, 32 states have a capital punishment statute, as does the federal government. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia do not.

    Missouri has executed 68 people since 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Currently, 48 inmates face capital punishment in the state.

    A bill abolishing the death penalty and replacing it with life without parole was introduced in the General Assembly this year, but it was not debated.

    Kansas lawmakers also introduced death penalty repeal bills this session, but they went nowhere. The state’s last serious debate on death penalty repeal came in 2010, when it fell a vote short in the Senate.

    Gov. Sam Brownback said last week that his view on capital punishment has changed in recent years, putting him to the left of most in his Republican Party. He now believes it should be reserved for inmates who pose a future threat to society, using Osama bin Laden as an example.

    “You’re always looking to protect life,” he said. “That’s a very narrow definition of the use of the death penalty.”

    Brownback’s views on capital punishment in Kansas, though, may be less important than they appear. Even if he is re-elected in 2014, it’s unlikely he would still be in office when any death row clemency requests might be filed.

    But they do suggest many Kansans, even some conservatives, remain uncomfortable with the ultimate sanction.

    “It represents an ambivalence in the state about the death penalty,” Dieter said. “It may be wanted on the books, but carrying it out is problematic. And so it’s delayed.”

    Death’s leverage

    Some prosecutors and supporters, though, say keeping the death penalty on the Kansas books remains important.

    Studies show the death penalty is still a deterrent, Heritage’s Muhlhausen said, although the effect drops in states that don’t actually carry it out.

    Other experts dispute his conclusion. The Kansas murder rate is 3.5 per 100,000 people, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. In Missouri, it’s 7 murders per 100,000. Both have the death penalty, but only Missouri has carried it out in recent years.

    Iowa has no death penalty. Its murder rate is 1.3 per 100,000 people.

    But even the threat of capital punishment can focus a defendant’s attention on plea agreements that spare victims’ families from long trials, some lawyers say. In most agreements, almost all future appeals are waived, ending the trauma of court appearances and media stories about the crime.

    Additionally, death penalty defendants have more to worry about than death.

    Paul Cramm represented Edwin Hall, now serving a sentence of life without parole after pleading guilty to murdering Kelsey Smith.

    Clients, Cramm said, are often as worried about the conditions of death row as they are about the execution chamber itself, which encourages plea deals. Death row inmates are kept in El Dorado, Kan., in isolation from almost all other prisoners.

    Most defendants realize “the likelihood of an acquittal or a finding of not guilty is not real high,” Cramm said. “The likelihood of being executed in your lifetime is not real high. So I guess what we’re negotiating for is, what sort of life do you want to have while you’re incarcerated?”

    Death penalty opponents also suggest the long wait for death is itself cruel. Supporters, though, say those complaints are misplaced. A prisoner can’t take advantage of every delay the law allows, they say, and then complain about how long it takes to die.

    If Kansas ever executes a condemned prisoner, it will take place in the state prison in Lansing. Only death by lethal injection is authorized.

    Asked if the gap between sentence and execution in Kansas is too long, Brownback hesitated for several seconds.

    “I’ve been at the chambers in Lansing, where the death penalty would have to be administered,” he said. “That’s a very sobering place to see.

    “But I think it’s kind of actually worked for the state,” he added. “Most Kansans would look at it as wanting this to be very, very, very sparingly used.”



    Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2013/05/17...#storylink=cpy

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