Archive for Sunday, January 24, 2016

Efforts to repeal Kansas death penalty may be stymied by U.S. Supreme Court’s decision

In this file photo from Oct. 2001, Warden David McKune leads a media tour of the execution chamber at Lansing Correctional Facility, in Lansing, Kan.

In this file photo from Oct. 2001, Warden David McKune leads a media tour of the execution chamber at Lansing Correctional Facility, in Lansing, Kan.

January 24, 2016


— Leading up to the start of the 2016 legislative session, Kansas death penalty opponents thought they had a good chance of passing a bill this year to repeal the law.

In fact, a bill was formally introduced Friday in the House, with 17 cosponsors from both sides of the aisle, including religious conservative Republicans as well as liberal and centrist Democrats.

It would prohibit death sentences for any crimes committed after July 1, and it would create a new crime of "aggravated murder" punishable by life in prison without the possibility of parole.

But after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling this week that put one of the most infamous mass murders in Kansas history back in the spotlight, some lawmakers say those chances may have dimmed.

"Up until (Wednesday), we had enough votes that we could have passed it in the House," said Rep. John Bradford, R-Lansing, one of the conservative cosponsors. "Right now, after that decision, I think it's going to be questionable."

On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a Kansas Supreme Court ruling and upheld the death sentences of three convicted murderers in Kansas, including Jonathan and Reginald Carr, the two brothers who killed five people and attempted to kill a sixth during a crime spree in Wichita in December 2000.

In the same opinion, the court also reversed the Kansas court in another death penalty case, that of Sidney Gleason, who was convicted of the 2004 murder of a Great Bend woman and her boyfriend, because the decision in that case was based on the court's ruling in the Carr brothers case.

Those were the second and third cases in which the U.S. high court reversed the Kansas court on death penalty cases. In 2013, the U.S. court also upheld the death sentence of Scott Cheever, who shot and killed Greenwood County Sheriff Matt Samuels in 2005.

Kansas reinstated the death penalty in 1994, and since then several people have been sentenced to death. But so far, no one has been executed because the Kansas Supreme Court has consistently overturned or vacated their sentences, usually on procedural grounds.

In 2014, in fact, the Kansas court vacated the Carr brothers' sentences, thrusting the court itself into the middle of election-year politics. Two of the court's justices, Eric Rosen and Lee Johnson, were up for retention that year, and both of them won, but by much narrower margins than usual.

Now, with that infamous massacre back in the spotlight, some supporters of repeal say it will be hard to vote for it without appearing like they're letting the Carr brothers off the hook, even though the repeal bill, as it's currently drafted, would not apply retroactively to them.

"I'm sure some would perceive that," said Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, where the bill could be referred. "But I look at it from a different perspective. You have your personal convictions, whether you're pro-life or pro-choice, whether you're for the death penalty or against the death penalty. Normally (a court ruling) doesn't change your personal convictions. It may add pressure that they don't want to go forward this year, though."

Rep. Boog Highberger, D-Lawrence, another cosponsor of the bill, said he is also hopeful that the Carr brothers decision won't affect how lawmakers vote on the issue.

"The bill is not retroactive, so any existing death sentences could still be carried out," he said.

Highberger also said the movement to abolish the death penalty has been gaining momentum among conservatives.

"The conservative argument, as I understand it is, one, the death penalty is an inefficient government program," he said. "We've spent millions of dollars on it and we haven't executed anyone since 1965."

"Also," he said, "I think people are finally realizing it might be inconsistent with conservative beliefs about small government and limited government. If you only believe in limited government, do you want government having the power to kill people?"

But Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and is a supporter of the death penalty, said he doesn't buy the argument that the law is ineffective because it hasn't been used yet.

"The three decisions of the Kansas Supreme Court that have prevented the death penalty have all been overturned by the United States Supreme Court," he said. "The misapplication of the federal Constitution by the Kansas Supreme Court cannot be used as a justification for repealing the law."

On Monday, House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, is expected to refer the death penalty bill to a committee.

Barker said it will be up to Merrick and the House GOP leadership team to decide whether the bill will get a hearing, and whether it will ever be voted on by the full House.


Mike Riner 2 years, 3 months ago

No need to repeal the death penalty law in Kansas. This state will never carry out an execution anyway.

Calvin Anders 2 years, 3 months ago

So, with it's adversarial prosecution system and the death penalty, Kansas will continue, as do many other states in the union, to allow for the killing of it's own citizens with little concern about their guilt or innocents, but at the whim of police and distinct attorneys.

Mike Riner 2 years, 3 months ago

Did you forget about the awful citizens on the JURIES?

Bob Summers 2 years, 3 months ago

None of us are getting outta here alive.

Cille King 2 years, 3 months ago

I don't understand why the recent Supreme Court decision would have an impact on legislation to abolish the death penalty. There are 9 men with the death penalty in Kansas before this current ruling. Why the difference in going from 9 to 12, or more? It wasn't that Kansas didn't have anyone with this sentence.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 2 years, 3 months ago

How many people, who have so little regard of life that they would kill someone, are actually thinking "I better not do this, since I might get the death penalty." They have no morals anyway, and they are always arrogant enough to think they wouldn't get caught. And frankly life in a prison for the rest of a person's life would be a much worse punishment. I like my freedom. To be confined with no freedom of movement or freedom to set my own schedule would be tortuous. Of course, that is not what keeps me from killing someone. My values are what keeps me from killing someone. I have a strong sense of right and wrong, and I don't need a law, a punishment or even a religion to tell me that murder is wrong.

Justin Hoffman 2 years, 3 months ago

"They have no morals anyway". Funny you should say that Dorothy, yet you seem to think these same criminals will adhere to stricter gun laws? Hmmmmmmmmm.

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