Why Kansas has not used the death penalty

Posted: Updated:

"It's the most unbelievable horrible thing that could ever happen to a person and it happened to my daughter," said Brian Sanderholm sitting in his Arkansas City home. 

Ten years later, Sanderholm still struggles with his daughter's murder. In 2007 his daughter Jodi Sanderholm was abducted, raped and murdered. Investigators would later arrest Justin Thurber for the unthinkable crime. 

"He tortured Jodi," said Brian.
"For hours," chimed in mother Cindy

He was sentenced to death for the crime. Including Thurber, nine men are currently sentenced to death in the state, but Kansas has not executed an inmate in more than 50 years. 

Sanderholm family joins Kansans for Justice

Man on death row for rape, murder of Kansas woman appeals sentence

"Well, the death penalty in Kansas doesn't work.," said Brian. 
"That's the problem," said Cindy

Our investigation found an appeals process that's notoriously slow and a state supreme court that has consistently ruled in favor of defendants. One example:  convicted serial killer John Edward Robinson. He struck a deal with prosecutors in Missouri to avoid the death penalty, but for murders in Kansas, he was willing to risk it. The reason: since 1976 Missouri has executed 87 inmates and Kansas has executed none. 

"These cases have dragged on for such a very long period of time. Some of the early cases after the legislature re-instituted the death penalty in 1994 are particularly long," said Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt. 

The Kansas Supreme Court has also overturned a number of death sentences, including the Carr brothers, convicted of a crime spree that ended with four counts of capital murder and one count first-degree murder. It was a case that went all the way to the nations highest court. In an eight to one ruling the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalties for the Carr brothers with a scathing criticism of the Kansas Supreme Court. 

"The Kansas Supreme Court time and again invalidates death sentences because it says the Federal Constitution requires it."

The opinion continued saying, "Turning a blind eye...would enable state courts to blame the unpopular death-sentence reprieve of the most horrible criminals upon the Federal Constitution when it is in fact their own doing."

Yet in not one of the death sentences in Kansas is the guilt or innocence of the murderer in question. Death sentences are consistently thrown out on technicalities during the appeals process. This frustrates the Sanderholms as they wait for their daughters killer to be executed. 

"I'm all for the death penalty. I believe it should be and I believe it is our responsibility since it's our law to execute him and go on. Or change the law." said Sanderholm. 

In late October the Sanderholm family traveled to Topeka for the Thurber's first appeal in front of the Kansas supreme court. Jodi's Cindy knows the odds but is hopeful she gets justice for her daughter. 

"He didn't let Jodi appeal her life. He killed her and that was all," said Cindy