State legislators hear death penalty measures

1/17/2014

TOPEKA (AP) — Kansas Sen. Greg Smith, whose own daughter was brutally murdered seven years ago, told a committee of state lawmakers Thursday that they should reject a bill that would abolish the death penalty.

TOPEKA (AP) — Kansas Sen. Greg Smith, whose own daughter was brutally murdered seven years ago, told a committee of state lawmakers Thursday that they should reject a bill that would abolish the death penalty.

Smith, a former police officer, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that such proposals are hurtful because they force families to relive the deaths of loved ones.

"Stay out of it. The people of Kansas have spoken through their elected officials. This is the law," said Smith, an Overland Park Republican.

Smith's daughter Kelsey was murdered in 2007 after she was abducted from a shopping center. Her killer, Edwin Hall, pleaded guilty to the murder to avoid the death penalty and will spend life in prison without parole.

The testimony was part of an extended hearing on the bill. Senators took no action and may hear additional comments next week.

The proposal would repeal the current death penalty law effective July 1, after which the sentence for a new crime of aggravated murder would be life without parole. The sentences for the nine men currently under death sentences would be carried out and they could not be commuted by a governor.

Kansas reinstated the death penalty in 1994 but has not carried out an execution under that law. The last execution in Kansas was in 1965.

State senators deadlocked 20 to 20 in 2010 over a similar death penalty abolition bill.

Members of the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty and the clergy testified in favor of the bill, pointing to the potential cost of death penalty trials and appeals, as well as the possibility that an innocent defendant would be executed.

The Rev. Joseph Naumann, archbishop of the Diocese of Kansas City in Kansas, said that while governments have an obligation to protect society from violence, there are "bloodless" means instead of executions. Naumann's father was murdered when his mother was pregnant with him in 1948.

"We do not live in a country that bases its criminal justice system on giving those who have brutally tortured and killed their victims 'what they deserve.' Otherwise our methods of punishment would be very different from what they are," he said. "It's a question of, what kind of people do we want to be, even when faced with these very dark evils."

A second bill being considered shortens the appeals process in capital cases, limiting the time attorneys have to seek extensions from the court. Supporters, including Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe, said the bill would make Kansas court procedures in line with other states to shorten the time between initial conviction and sentences being carried out.

Howe said doing so would not jeopardize a defendant's rights to due process.

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