Topeka Gov. Mark Parkinson said Monday that he’s willing to take a fresh look at the death penalty law he helped write 15 years ago as a legislator.
The governor’s comments to reporters came after Senate leaders said the Legislature probably will debate the death penalty law during its 2010 session. Efforts to repeal the law failed in the Senate this year because of concerns that the legislation was flawed.
“I applaud those folks out there who are saying, ‘We’ve had this law for 15 years. Let’s take a look at how it works.’ I’m more than happy to encourage their efforts to do that and then look at whatever work product they come up with,” he said.
As a state senator, Parkinson helped draft the law, which he said was aimed at giving murder defendants an incentive to plead guilty and accept a sentence of 40 years in prison with no chance for release.
“Our thought was, if we created even a slim possibility of the death penalty, that these heinous crimes and these heinous defendants would suddenly have an incentive to plead to the Hard 40,” he said.
He said predictions in 1994 that a death penalty law would clog the court system haven’t proven true because many defendants plead to long prison sentences rather than face the possibility of execution.
“I am always willing to re-evaluate positions based upon evidence and what has happened over the last 15 years,” he said. “And if the evidence over the last 15 years shows that this has been poor public policy or that it hasn’t been imposed in a fair and equitable manner, which I think often is the criticism, I’d be happy to look at it.”
Nobody has been executed under the current death penalty law.
The Death Penalty Information Center says 12 states, including Kansas, had bills this year to abolish the death penalty and only one, New Mexico, repealed it. Two other states considered a moratorium on the death penalty.
Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican, offered a bill that would have eliminated death sentences after July 1, saying the change would save the state money that could be used for other programs. It was returned to committee because of concerns such as whether it would have repealed the life-without-parole sentence for murder.
A 2003 state audit showed the average cost of a death penalty case is $1.2 million compared with $740,000 for other murder cases, but supporters of capital punishment call the analysis flawed.
“I think capital punishment will be back on the table. I don’t know if any legislation will pass, but it’s important we have a debate periodically,” said Senate Vice President John Vratil, a Leawood Republican.
Senate President Steve Morris agreed.
“All across the country you’re seeing that happen. Not just our state, but many states are getting into that debate, so I expect next year a number of states will get into that discussion,” the Hugoton Republican said.
Kansas has not executed anyone since June 22, 1965, when James Latham and George York, serial killers in their 20s, were hanged.