Kansas Senate committee to hear testimony on death penalty repeal bill

By: Phil White Email
By: Phil White Email

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WICHITA, Kan. -- The Kansas death penalty could soon receive its own death sentence.

A Kansas Senate committee will take testimony this week that, if it becomes law, will abolish the death penalty in Kansas.

Senate Bill 126, introduced during the 2013 Kansas Legislative Session, seeks to change capital murder, which is currently punishable by death, to aggravated murder. That crime would bring a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

"This is not to be construed as any kind of legislation that's soft on crime," said Mary Sloan, Executive Director of the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty. "Life in prison without the opportunity of parole is a very severe sentence."

Sloan's coalition is made up of Kansans who oppose the death penalty for a variety of reasons, including moral, religious, political and economic.

"Previous studies have shown that a death penalty case can cost as much as 70 percent more than a case where the death penalty is not sought," Sloan said.

Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said Kansas prosecutors will not advocate for or against the death penalty as Senators discuss Senate Bill 126, but he does not agree that capital cases cost significantly more.

"I get paid a salary," he said. "That salary is unaffected by the nature of the cases that I try. Public defenders defend these guys. They get paid a salary."

Bennett conceded the state does have expenses for forensic testing and experts in capital murder cases.

"But experts get used and forensic tests get used in all cases," he said. "Frankly, any homicide case is probably going to have that."

Sloan said many of the higher costs come from housing death row inmates.

"There are increased costs for incarceration; there are increased costs at the trial level," she said.

The Senate Judiciary Committee's Hearing for Senate Bill 126 is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Thursday in Room 346-S of the State Capitol Building in Topeka.

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