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Bill Would Abolish Kansas' Death Penalty

By: Associated Press Email
By: Associated Press Email

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Friday, February 6, 2009

A state lawmaker wants to see the Kansas death penalty abolished to help close the state's projected budget shortfall of $199 million.

State Sen. Caroline McGinn introduced the bill, saying lawmakers "need to be thinking out of the box" to save money. The Sedgwick Republican said the death penalty hasn't proven to be a deterrent to crime, and there's always the risk of executing an innocent person.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled hearings Feb. 26-27 on the bill that says nobody could be sentenced to death after July 1.

Death penalty foes on Thursday said that given the current budget problems, executions are too expensive and unnecessary because Kansas has an alternative -- life in prison without parole.

In a 2003 state audit of 22 first-degree murder cases found that the median cost for those leading to the death penalty was $1.2 million. That compared with $740,000 for the median non-death penalty cases reviewed.

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DA Nola Foulston's Comment on Senate Bill 208

We have only recently become aware that there was a plan to introduce a bill to abolish the Kansas Death Penalty because of claimed extraordinary expense in the prosecution and defense of these cases. This office was never consulted during the preparation of this bill or made aware that there was a plan to abolish the death penalty.

In 2003, the Kansas Legislative Post Audit committee attempted to study the “cost” of a death penalty cases in comparison to other cases. The study was fraught with misperceptions and inappropriate comparisons. It should be remembered that costs are not driven by punishment; they are driven by the individual facts of each case. See Kansas Criminal Law Handbook, Fourth Edition: Chapter 30 Role of the Prosecutor in Capital Litigation, Section 30.12 pp: 30-7to 30-9 “The Cost of Death Penalty Cases” by District Attorney Nola Tedesco Foulston [2006]. Evaluating the costs of a death penalty case is difficult, if not impossible, to analyze in a quantitative way.

As prosecutors, we are required to apply and follow the law as enacted. During the 1993-94 legislative sessions, Kansas enacted K.S.A.21-3439 that reinstated the death penalty in our state. The capital murder law provides for a sentence of death in only very limited circumstances.

Since it’s inception on July 1, 1994, there have been only eleven [11] individuals placed on death row during this 14.5 year period. . Two of those individuals, Jonathan and Reginald Carr, were convicted for the deaths of five individuals in our community. During the prosecution of this case, this office took great care to assure the public safety while marshalling expenditures so that no extraordinary cost would be incurred. In fact, the entire prosecution of this case caused no additional budget impact.

The application and use of the Death penalty by Kansas prosecutors has been carefully and narrowly applied since its inception.

The Kansas Death Penalty Statute has been upheld as constitutional by the United States Supreme Court in the Sedgwick County case of State of Kansas v. Michael Marsh.

Public concerns for the safety and welfare of its citizens were the driving force behind the enactment of the Kansas Death Penalty. Between the years 1972 [Furman decision that caused many states to repeal their death penalty statutes] and 1994, Kansas had no death penalty statute. It is ironic to note the grave concern expressed by citizens of this state who were alarmed to learn that the prosecution of Dennis Rader [BTK] for 10 homicides committed in Sedgwick County were ineligible for death penalty consideration since they all occurred during the period of time in which Kansas had no death penalty.

As District Attorney, I am aware that across the nation similar moves have been made to repeal death penalty statutes based on the faulty assessment that the cost of these cases is too burdensome. Often the driving force is, in reality, a moral objection rather than a financial one. In considering the expenses associated with death penalty litigation, there must be a concomitant assessment of the loss to victims, their families and our communities.

District Attorney Nola Tedesco Foulston
18th Judicial District of Kansas


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