Illinois’ abolition of the death penalty this week ought to motivate Kansas to take another look at its own flawed death penalty law, which has yet to be carried out after 17 years but is costing Kansans a bundle.
Illinois, where 20 people sent to death row were later found to have been innocent or otherwise improperly convicted, becomes the fourth state to abandon the ultimate punishment over the past decade and the 16th state without a death penalty. Illinois’ moratorium on executions had been in place since 2003.
“Since our experience has shown that there is no way to design a perfect death penalty system, free from the numerous flaws that can lead to wrongful convictions or discriminatory treatment, I have concluded that the proper course of action is to abolish it,” said Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn.
Besides being less than 100 percent accurate, Quinn said, the law was being applied too arbitrarily from one Illinois case and county to the next — an issue in Kansas as well.
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If Kansas’ death penalty isn’t as “seriously broken” as the one now off the books in Illinois, it certainly isn’t working.
A dozen men have been sentenced to death in Kansas, and nine of those sentences stand but are far from being carried out. The state hasn’t executed anyone since 1965.
At a time when Kansas lawmakers should be eager to consider all options to reduce spending, a repeal of capital punishment should have additional appeal: Death penalty cases cost the state $500,000 more each, or 70 percent, to pursue than non-death penalty cases.
The Kansas Senate’s emotional debate and 20-20 deadlock last year on a repeal demonstrated that it’s not a settled issue in Kansas.
It also would be good to see Gov. Sam Brownback exert some leadership on capital punishment, given his own rethinking of the morality of it. A few years ago, he told The Eagle editorial board that his view “has tightened a lot to where I only support capital punishment in cases where we cannot protect the society from the individual,” mentioning Osama bin Laden as a good candidate. He added: “Where I think we have difficulty is continuing to try to push and to talk and to teach and to be in the culture with a culture of life, and still using a death penalty on a broad basis.”
As it stands, though, things don’t look bright for House Bill 2323, which would replace the death penalty for crimes committed after July 1 with a new “aggravated murder” category carrying a life sentence with no parole. It’s assigned to the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, chaired by Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Bel Aire. Asked recently about its potential for even a hearing, he said: “It’s not on my short list.”
With a recent national poll showing that two-thirds of voters wouldn’t hold a vote to repeal the death penalty against lawmakers, Kansas legislators shouldn’t be afraid to reconsider whether capital punishment is right for Kansas.