Crime & Courts

A history of capital punishment in Kansas through 1994

The Kansas Legislature brought back capital punishment in April 1994. Here’s a brief history of the death penalty in the state leading up to that.

1861: Kansas becomes a state. Legislators enact the first death penalty law for people convicted of treason. First-degree murder is added the next year.

1861-70: Nine executions take place in Kansas under state authority.

1872: Under a new state law, governors are required to issue execution orders, but none do.

January 1907: Kansas abolishes capital punishment.

1935: Kansas reinstates the death penalty under Gov. Alf Landon. The method is hanging. Juries are given authority to authorize capital punishment.

1944: First execution under new capital punishment law. The state will carry out 15 hangings under it.

1954-60: No executions take place in Kansas, except at the U.S. Army and Air Force Disciplinary Barracks. Gov. George Docking opposes the death penalty, saying, “I just don’t like killing people.”

1955: Legislators expand capital punishment to include kidnappers who harm their victims. Legislators try unsuccessfully to change execution method to lethal gas.

1960: Docking loses his bid for re-election. He commutes the death sentences for two men on death row, Earl Wilson and Bobby Joe Spencer, to life in prison.

April 14, 1965: Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, made famous by Truman Capote’s book “In Cold Blood,” are hanged for the Nov. 15, 1959, quadruple murders of the Clutter family in Holcomb.

June 22, 1965: The last executions in Kansas take place. Two AWOL soldiers, George Ronald York and James Douglas Latham, die for the 1961 murder of a Kansas railroad worker during a cross-country killing spree.

June 29, 1972: The U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the death penalty in a 5-4 vote, saying its inconsistent application is unconstitutional and cruel and unusual punishment. Sentences of death row inmates nationwide are commuted.

July 2, 1976: The U.S. Supreme Court rules that the death penalty itself doesn’t automatically violate the Constitution. States are allowed to reinstate capital punishment if they make changes, including implementing a two-phase trial and automatic appeals.

April 22, 1994: Kansas passes a new death penalty law permitting execution by lethal injection. Capital murder is the only death-eligible offense.

July 1, 1994: The death penalty takes effect in Kansas.

March 11, 1998: Gary Kleypas, who raped and killed 20-year-old Pittsburg State University student Carrie Williams, is given the death sentence. His case, as well as Kansas’ other eight death-row inmates, is still in appeals.

Compiled using information from Kansas Historical Society, Wichita Eagle news archives and Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty

Executed by state of Kansas

Here is a list of the legal executions carried out by the state of Kansas after legislators enacted its first death penalty law in 1861. All were men convicted of murder.

1. Feb. 12, 1863: Carl Horne, 35

2. Oct. 30, 1863: William Griffith, no age available

3. Dec. 29, 1865: John Hendley, no age available

4. Jan. 19, 1866: Ernest Wa-tee-cha, 26

5. Aug. 10, 1866: Ben Lewis, 26

6. Feb. 20, 1867: Martin W. Bates, 19

7. Nov. 15, 1867: Scott Holderman, 25

8. Sept. 18, 1868: Melvin E. Baughn, no age available

9. Aug. 9, 1870: William Dickson, 40

10. March 10, 1944: Ernest L. Hoefgen, 31

11. April 15, 1944: Fred L. Brady, 46

12. April 15, 1944: Clark B. Knox, 26

13. July 29, 1947: Cecil Tate, 22

14. July 29, 1947: George F. Gumtow, 21

15. May 6, 1950: George Miller, 60

16. April 6, 1951: Preston McBride, 25

17. Jan. 5, 1952: James Lammers, 27

18. May 21, 1954: Nathaniel Germany, 29

19. July 16, 1954: Merle William Martin, 44

20. Nov. 30, 1962: Lowell Lee Andrews, 22

21. April 14, 1965: Richard E. Hickock, 33

22. April 14, 1965: Perry E. Smith, 36

23. June 22, 1965: James D. Latham, 23

24. June 22, 1965: George R. York, 22

Kansas abolished capital punishment from 1907 to 1935. Nationwide, the death penalty was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972 and allowed again in 1976. Kansas enacted its third death penalty law in 1994; no one has been executed since. Currently, nine men are on death row.

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