Lansing prison project could have implications for death penalty in Kansas

The exterior of the Lansing Correctional Center is seen Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, in Lansing, Kan.

? Plans to build new maximum and medium security facilities at the Lansing Correctional Facility could have implications for the state’s death penalty law, some lawmakers said Thursday.

That’s because the death chamber where executions would be carried out is located in the maximum security facility at Lansing, a 156-year-old building that the state plans to mothball, and possibly turn into a museum.

The issue came up Thursday during a meeting of the Legislative Budget Committee, a joint committee that studies budget issues during interim periods when the Legislature is not in session.

During that meeting, Department of Corrections officials briefed the panel on the status of the prison project. The department received proposals from two construction firms that specialize in prison projects, and it hopes to select a contractor before the end of the year.

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, who chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee, raised the question about where executions will take place once the old prison is mothballed.

Mike Gaito, the department’s director of capital improvements, said that’s an issue the Legislature will need to address, but he suggested a new death chamber could be built at the El Dorado Correctional Facility where death row inmates are housed prior to their execution.

“Or we could repeal the death penalty,” McGinn said.

There are currently 10 inmates in Kansas who have been sentenced to death. Two of those, John Edward Robinson and Gary Kleypas, are in the final stages of appeal.

Robinson, sometimes referred to as “the Internet’s first serial killer” because he met his victims online in the early 1990s, was convicted of killing three women in the Kansas City area and disposing of their bodies in barrels. He later confessed to killing five others.

Kleypas, the first person sentenced under the state’s 1994 death penalty statute, was convicted of raping and murdering a Pittsburg State University student in 1996.

No one has yet been executed in Kansas under the 1994 law. The last executions in the state took place in 1965 when serial killers George York and James Latham were hanged at Lansing. Current law provides for death by lethal injection.

The last attempt to repeal the death penalty in Kansas was in 2010 when a bill failed in the Senate on a 20-20 vote.

McGinn said during a break in the meeting that the cost of building a new death chamber could be enough to win over the votes needed to repeal the law.

“It’s just something that as we move forward and again talk about constraints on our budget, it’s a topic we should probably talk about,” she said. “Lawyers have to be trained, judges have to be trained. We spend a lot of money to go down this path when maybe these individuals ought to be locked up and we should just not even talk about them again because of what they’ve done to people in our society.”

McGinn voted against the death penalty repeal bill in 2010, as did Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka. Kelly said Thursday that she thinks a push to repeal the death penalty is bound to happen soon.

“I think it was going to come up anyway,” she said. “I think that people have been waiting in the wings for an opportunity to bring that up, and this does present, though, an excellent opportunity to do that because not only does it cost us about half a million anyway just to have the death penalty on the books, this would add an additional cost of having to build a new chamber.”