Neely Goen: Costly death penalty isn’t protecting Kansans

02/07/2013 12:00 AM

02/06/2013 6:46 PM

I never met my dad. My mom was pregnant with me when three men murdered my father, Conroy O’Brien, a Kansas state trooper.

What should have been a routine traffic stop near Matfield Green changed the course of many lives.

My mother wasn’t the only one devastated. Many people were outraged that an officer had been murdered in the line of duty. My father’s murder, along with other cases, led people to call for a return of the death penalty, which Kansas eventually reinstated in 1994.

This was fine with me. Having spent my entire life without my dad, I was angry and had wanted his killers executed.

But over time, after I saw how the death penalty system actually works, my feelings on the issue changed.

What I’ve discovered is a legal process that no murder victim’s family should have to endure. We already have been through enough. We deserve better than a system that forces us to go through long trials and endless appeals. The death penalty focuses an incredible amount of attention on the killers, which makes victims’ families relive the painful details of a murder over and over.

At one time I believed that the death penalty would benefit people like my mother and me, but in reality nothing could be further from the truth.

What would help us is Kansas dedicating its law enforcement dollars in the most effective way possible, so as to prevent other families from having to suffer a loss like ours.

Since reinstating the death penalty, Kansas has spent millions of dollars on a death penalty that does nothing to deter crime. Many studies have shown that the expensive death penalty does not keep us any safer than the alternative of life in prison without parole.

We should take the money that we waste on the death penalty and put it toward better equipping people like my father who are on the front lines, or toward other programs that actually reduce crime.

Of course, the unfortunate reality is that we never can completely stop crime. It is important, then, that there is funding to provide services that will help grieving and traumatized families like ours.

In changing my mind on the death penalty, I clearly am not alone. More Americans and lawmakers are rethinking their support for the death penalty.

Five states in the past five years have repealed the death penalty. In all these states, murder victims’ family members like me were among the leading voices calling for an end to the death penalty. We’ve seen the problems with capital punishment up close and know all too well why the system is such a failure.

It is time for Kansas to re-establish itself as a leader on this issue. The state first repealed capital punishment back on Jan. 30, 1907. It is a good time for lawmakers to re-evaluate the death penalty. They will find a broken, wasteful system that does nothing to protect the people of Kansas and can hurt murder victims’ families.

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