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.”