Archive for Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Kansas Republican lawmakers seek to streamline death penalty appeals

July 29, 2014


— Four Republican state lawmakers said Tuesday they plan to reintroduce a bill that would streamline appeals of death penalty cases in Kansas.

The announcement came in reaction to the Kansas Supreme Court's decision last week vacating the death sentences of Jonathan and Reginald Carr, brothers who were convicted of multiple homicides that occurred during a crime spree in Wichita in 2000.

"For almost 12 years, the mass murderers have used the Kansas Supreme Court's endless appeal delays to avoid their death sentences," Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement released Tuesday.

King said the bill would be pre-filed before the start of the 2015 session. Also signing on to the bill are Sen. Greg Smith of Overland Park, and Reps. John Rubin of Shawnee and Jan Pauls of Hutchinson.

Smith is the father of a young woman who was murdered in Johnson County in 2007. Rubin is a former federal administrative law judge. Pauls is an attorney who recently switched from the Democratic Party to become a Republican.

During the 2014 session, the Senate passed a bill to streamline death penalty appeals, but it later died in the Senate. King said next year's bill would be substantially similar but would include changes recommended by House negotiators.

Kansas reinstated the death penalty in 1994, but in the 20 years since then the Supreme Court has overturned or vacated every death sentence appeal it has heard. Two of those cases were later reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The last execution in Kansas was carried out in 1965.

King said the goal of the bill would be to reduce the time it takes for the first appeal to reach the Supreme Court to about three and a half years, instead of the 12 years it took in the case of the Carr brothers.

"It is clear that a majority of the Kansas Supreme Court refuse to follow the law concerning the Kansas death penalty," Rep. Smith said. "Surprise issues and creative interpretations make a mockery of the rule of law, needlessly re-traumatize the families of the victims, and embolden these heinous criminals, which jeopardizes the safety of every Kansan."

For several years, the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty has lobbied to abolish the law, arguing in part that it costs more to prosecute a capital murder case and carry out an execution than it would to sentence the person to life in prison without parole.

King said he rejects that argument.

"When you allow unlimited time and unlimited pages to brief a case, the costs go up exponentially," he said during an interview Tuesday. "That's exactly what this bill's intended to address. rigorous due process with limited time and reasonable costs."

Some conservative GOP lawmakers have pointed to the Carr brothers case as a reason for changing the way Supreme Court justices are selected.

The Kansas Constitution requires they be appointed by the governor from a list of nominees submitted by a nonpartisan nominating committee. But some have argued for changing the constitution, either to allow direct elections or appointments by the governor that are subject to Senate confirmation.


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