Kansas will consider abolishing the death penalty next year as death sentences are declining across the United States.
Fewer people were sentenced to death this year than any other year since 1976, according to a report released Friday by the Death Penalty Information Center.
The report cites 106 new death sentences handed down in 2009, compared to 111 in 2008. Both are down significantly from a decade ago, when 284 death sentences were given out.
Sen. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, has scheduled four days of hearings beginning Jan. 19 on a new bill that would eliminate the death penalty in Kansas.
A Kansas Judicial Council advisory committee of lawmakers, judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers helped rewrite a bill sponsored last year by Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick.
In Kansas, seeking the death penalty costs four times more in legal fees than not pursuing it, according to a report released earlier this month. Figures were compiled by the state's indigent defense fund.
Imprisoning an inmate facing a death sentence also costs more, according to the Kansas Department of Corrections. It takes an additional $1,000 a year to keep an inmate in the isolation cell blocks required for death penalty inmates rather than in the general prison population.
Those figKansas Department of Correctionsures were part of a report from the Judicial Council's Death Penalty Advisory Committee, which rewrote the bill to abolish the state's death penalty. The Judicial Council analyzes legal issues for the state Legislature and Supreme Court.
Two Wichita-area cases demonstrate the discrepancy.
Romaine Douglas was convicted of killing two people in 1999. He received a life prison sentence with no chance of parole for 100 years.
Gavin Scott was convicted of killing two people in 1996. He received a death sentence, which was overturned on appeal. He is set to face another capital punishment sentencing before a jury in April.
Neither one was the most expensive — or least expensive — case of its kind, according to the Judicial Council report.
If Douglas lives to be 79 — the average life expectancy for an American male — the state will have spent about $243,884 to convict him, deal with appeals and keep him in prison.
So far, the state has spent $750,074 to pursue the death penalty against Scott.
An AP version of the story, "Continuation of death penalty scheduled for debate in Kansas Legislature," is also via the Kansas City Star website.
Kansas Attorney General Steve Six has called the death sentence “just punishment” in some cases and expressed opposition to abolishing it.
However, budget problems have more states talking about whether the death penalty is worth the expense.
Seeking the death penalty in Kansas costs four times more in legal fees than not pursuing it, according to a recent report that used figures from the state’s indigent defense fund.
The state Judicial Council’s Death Penalty Advisory Committee said in a report issued earlier this month that it takes an additional $1,000 a year to house a death-row inmate in required isolation compared with keeping him in the general prison population.
The council, which analyzes legal issues for the state Legislature and Supreme Court, rewrote the bill to abolish the death penalty in Kansas.
Larry Williams expected to wait 10 years to see the death sentence carried out for his daughter's killer. Now, 13 years later, Williams said he may have to wait another decade before Gary Kleypas exhausts his appeals.
Lawyers understand the need for such scrutiny in death penalty cases, but others like Williams wonder whether the execution chamber in Lansing will ever be used.
"Oh, it's been frustrating for me in more ways than one, obviously losing your daughter but then the long court case," Williams said.
The length of time it takes to resolve a capital case is one reason the death penalty costs about 16 times more than life in prison, according to a 2003 Kansas study. States in which executions have been carried out estimate even higher costs for death sentences.
Kleypas, found guilty of raping and killing 20-year-old Carrie Williams in 1996, was the first person condemned to die in Kansas in more than 30 years. Since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1994, no one has been executed.
New Mexico brought back capital punishment in 1979. By the time New Mexico repealed the death penalty in March, it had carried out one execution.
"And he voluntarily gave up his appeal or he would still be on death row," said Viki Elkey, director of the New Mexico Coalition to Repeal the Death Penalty.
As Kansas' first capital punishment case since the death penalty was reinstated, Kleypas' case has taken more than a decade because of legal errors and questions about how people here should be put to death.
Earlier last week, Sylvester wrote the article, "Furloughs may delay Mireles trial," about cost factors in a death penalty case waiting to go to trial.
The judge presiding over the capital murder case of Israel Mireles wondered whether the state's money issues could force postponement of the trial. Butler County District Judge David Ricke said during a hearing Tuesday that Mireles' trial in the killing of Emily Sander is scheduled to start Feb. 8 - a week before state-mandated furloughs of courthouse employees.
Furloughs are currently scheduled for nonjudicial employees around the state unless legislators restore $3 million in money cut from the judicial branch. That would mean no bailiffs to aid jurors and no court reporter to make a record of testimony and evidence.
Kansas Attorney General Steve Six told the judge that trial preparations with state law enforcement officers as witnesses would have to be repeated if the trial was continued to another date.
"It could end up costing the state more," said Six, who is helping prosecute the case.
Ricke's best estimate about moving the trial would be before the second round of furloughs in March.
"We could try to do it between furloughs," the judge said. But trying to move the trial by weeks could turn into months, depending on the already busy schedules of the attorneys.
Melanie Freeman-Johnson, Mireles' attorney, and Six's office have other death penalty cases waiting around the state. Six's office has at least six other death penalty cases on its docket, with proceedings already scheduled from January through June.
Earlier coverage from Kansas begins with this post.