TOPEKA — Conservative Republican political figures and the president of a Benedictine College pro-life student group delved Tuesday into ramifications of Kansas law authorizing convicted killers to be sentenced to death.
During a gathering on the first floor of the Capitol rotunda, voices of Bill Sutton, Anthony Brown and Laura Peredo were added to the complex, protracted debate about the stalled House bill repealing capital punishment in Kansas.
These advocates also set the stage for Ray Krone and Ron Keine, who are intimately aware of life-or-death struggle occurring in states that embrace the ultimate penalty. They are among 150 people wrongfully convicted of murder, sentenced to die and later released from death row in the United States.
“Nine days from my execution, a police officer four states away was walking down the street,” said Keine, who was convicted of murdering a University of New Mexico student in 1974. “He said he experienced a religious epiphany. He walked into the nearest church and he confessed to the crime I was on death row for.”
Krone, who works with Keine at the death-row survivor organization Witness to Innocence, spent 10 years in prison, including two years on death row, after found guilty of killing a Phoenix bartender in 1991. He was freed when DNA evidence proved he wasn’t responsible for the woman’s death.
The U.S. Air Force veteran had been working for the U.S. Postal Service when arrested. Seven months later, he was on trial for murder.
“I had nothing to worry about, of course, because I was innocent,” Krone said. “I was convicted by that jury. I was sentenced to death because I declined to show remorse. How do you show remorse for something you didn’t do?”
His admonition: “If they can do it to me, they can do it to anyone. Let your voices be heard.”
The first-person accounts were delivered at the invitation of the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty, which is working to generate support for abolition of capital punishment. The pending legislation would replace the death penalty with life in prison without possibility of parole. It would not apply retroactively.
In February, the coalition brought Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, Mennonite and Episcopal church leaders to the Capitol to make the case state-sanctioned executions conflicted with God’s message of redemption and reconciliation.
They also argued the death penalty didn’t serve as a deterrent to crime and that prosecution of capital cases cost an estimated $395,000 each as opposed to $98,000 for a noncapital case.
The death penalty was reinstated in Kansas in 1994, but the state hasn’t executed anyone since 1965.
Sutton, a Republican state representative from Gardner, picked up on these topics in remarks Tuesday.
“I try to make sure every dollar spent by the Kansas taxpayer gets a return on that investment,” Sutton said. “There are millions of dollars — millions of dollars — spent on death penalty trials and the appeals process. We don’t have anything to show for it. There’s exactly zero utility for the tax dollars spent.”
Brown, a former Republican House member from Eudora, said his service in the Legislature was tied to core principles that included a perspective on abortion that life started at conception. He believes state lawmakers need to respect all life created by God.
“All life has the same value. Anything that interrupts that continuum of life is inherently wrong,” he said.
Peredo said many campus pro-life groups focused exclusively on abortion, but Ravens Respect Life at Benedictine College was committed to repeal of capital punishment and acknowledgment life extended from conception to death.
Gov. Sam Brownback, a pro-life Republican who would hold the veto pen if the House and Senate passed a repeal bill, didn’t participate in the rally.
He did say in an interview prior to the event that anti-abortion activists had increasingly been drawn into the capital punishment conversation.
“You hear it connected,” Brownback said. “You hear it said more frequently now.”