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March 16, 2009

Kansas death penalty debate impacted by capital killers already on the row

This article from the Topeka Capital Journal, which is headlined "Death penalty repeal on tap," details some of the ways in which a debate over repealing the death penalty in Kansas is being impacted by a couple defendants already condemned to death:

The Senate is preparing for an extraordinary debate today on a bill that may render capital punishment in Kansas a casualty of financial austerity, appellate fatigue and moral outrage.

Countering those weighty forces of change will be the legacy of mayhem left by 10 men who have drawn the state’s ultimate sanction since reimposition of the death penalty in 1994.  The leading edge of arguments by defenders of the death penalty will be the depraved saga of murder, torture, rape and robbery that catapulted Reginald and Jonathan Carr to death row.  Both were sentenced to die in 2002 for a Wichita crime spree that put five people in their grave....

Under Senate Bill 208, the death penalty would no longer be an option for Kansas judges and juries after July 1.  Opponents of the death penalty have campaigned against the law on moral grounds but recently built support with an argument drawn from practical experience.  The cost of a death penalty prosecution averages $1.2 million, according to a 2003 state audit, while the cost of other murder cases is $740,000. No one has been executed in Kansas since reimposition of the death penalty....

Supporters of the repeal said the bill was written so Kansas inmates with a pending sentence of death, including the Carr brothers, would remain on death row.  However, Attorney General Steve Six said abolition of capital punishment for future offenders would trigger new appeals by anyone facing execution in Kansas.  Outcome of those legal proceedings is unclear, he said.

March 16, 2009 at 09:44 AM | Permalink


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It's amazing how fast the priorities of Death Penalty Legislature has changed. Barely over a year ago, when the death penalty was repealed here in New Jersey, Governor Corzine held a highly staged political event, and focused on ending "state-endorsed killing," making the death penalty both a political and human rights issue. Kansas, of course, is a lot more conservative than New Jersey, and even though the governor is a Democrat, Sebelius could probably never take on the death penalty as a political issue. The economic realities of the case, which have been well known for at least a decade, were never enough to convince conservative voters. I guess once the economy tanks, that's what may push state legislators over the edge in red states.

Posted by: Hackensack, NJ crime lawyer | Mar 16, 2009 10:36:41 AM

The AG is correct. If you abolish the DP prospectively, the courts will make it retrospective.

The victims of the Carr brothers deserve better.

Posted by: federalist | Mar 16, 2009 12:12:35 PM

This is intolerable. Debates on the death penalty must consist solely of airy abstractions. We can't have the debate polluted with the real facts of real cases and the real harm that real murderers have caused to real people.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Mar 16, 2009 2:50:14 PM

Nor can we discuss the real costs to real people!

Until the last few months, the abstract argument ("some people commit crimes so heinous that they forfeit..."), must always obscure more concrete and nuanced questions ("Is this actually good public policy? Is it worth the cost? Are there other more effective policies we might adopt?").

Posted by: dm | Mar 16, 2009 4:36:42 PM

We have, in fact, attempted to discuss the real costs of both alternatives, but the press only seems interested in the estimates that inflate figures on one side of the scale and dismiss or ignore them on the other.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Mar 16, 2009 5:09:21 PM

Kent, if you are so concerned about having a real debate on the death penalty, why don’t you join with me in my call for televised and public executions. This way, the public can make up its mind about whether it is a good idea or not.

The truth is, Kent, you only want people to discuss information that you think will enflame peoples’ passions on a gut level in a way that supports your position. Sure, you want “details” of crimes, but you don’t want: 1) people to see what it looks like when a government bureaucrat kills someone; 2) the public to debate the relative worth of the lives of some “victims” of crime over others. After all, if you people think that it is so important to honor the lives of the “victims” then we need to discuss whether such “victims” were good people and what it means to be a good person. So, for example, we need to present the high school, college, and graduate school transcripts of all victims of a murder, so that the public can properly judge the contribution they made to society. Likewise, we need to provide the public with a list of the victims’ publications. Also, I think that there should be some screening so that people that quit school or don’t have big firms in their resumes are simply not considered that important.

And, if you want to speak in terms to the cost of society of a murder, perhaps we need to present the public with an audit of the salaries of all murder victims. After all, it doesn’t cost society that much if someone making under $200,000 per year is murdered, as they can be replaced with someone else. But, on the other hand, if a real American (i.e. making more money) is murdered then real damage has been done.

Are you with me?

Posted by: S.cotus | Mar 16, 2009 11:44:39 PM

Scotus is such a card. The death penalty should apply to all violent offenders and to the hierarchy of the lawyer profession for its insurrection against the Constitution.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 17, 2009 12:38:56 AM

Every lawyer here is a scurvy criminal lover, dependent on the criminal for their living, and immunizing the criminal from real accountability.

Crime will never decrease while the vile criminal lover lawyer on the bench and in the legislature protects the ultra-violent predator.

The cost of death penalty appeal is pretextual. The criminal lover on the bench has raised the cost to save the death row inmate and to contravene the will of the people. The murderer believes in the death penalty, without anesthesia or Eighth Amendment analysis for the murder victim.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 17, 2009 1:14:47 AM

What about the consideration that our criminal justice system is so imperfect. It has been proven that innocent people are condemned to death. When they are executed, the state has commited murder.

Posted by: Donna | Mar 18, 2009 10:05:54 PM

I am daughter of slain Kansas Highway Patrol Officer Conroy O'Brien...I do not support the death pentalty, however I believe in total prison reform. Do people not loose ALL privlege when they enter prison?? That would men beds, hot food, fresh air!! Why do they get cable and I cannot afford it for my kids, or why do they get a chance for a college deiploma when I cannot pay for my childs education? Something is seriously wrong with our prison systems...something far bigger than to kill or not. Also if they murder by gun shots, why do they get a needle in the arm??? Maybe people would think twice if we were actually stonned to death in a court yard...criminals have nothing to fear anymore.

Posted by: Neely Goen | Mar 23, 2009 11:36:46 AM

We can debate the death penalty all day long, but nobody is going to change anyone's mind. I'm generally anti-DP for a variety of reasons but there are a few cases I'll make exceptions for and this is one of them.

I think we should cut to the chase on this one. To that end, I'll state publicly: I will place $100 in the commissary accounts of each and every inmate at El Dorado Correctional Facility on the day either of the Carr brothers die, no matter the cause of their demise. This will cost me tens of thousands of dollars. I have it. I mean it. I'm completely serious.

Lest anyone accuse me of soliciting murder... My concern is for the welfare of the inmates. Anytime an inmate dies, his fellow inmates are surely sad and/or traumatized. Potato chips can help that - they make everyone feel better. So I'm just helping sad inmates feel better. That's all.

Posted by: Matt | May 15, 2009 1:58:31 AM

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