Courts & Crime

Death penalty shouldn't be money issue, victims' families say

TOPEKA — The relatives of murder victims on Thursday pleaded with Kansas lawmakers not to abolish the state's death penalty, saying that the penalty should be handed out to those who kill and not weighed in terms of what it costs the state.

“You cannot put a price tag on my sisters’ life,” Jennifer Sanderholm told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “That is ultimately what you will do if you abolish the death penalty”

Justin Thurber raped, sodomized and murdered 19-year-old Jodi Sanderholm of Arkansas City in January 2007. In March 2009, he was sentenced to die by lethal injection by a Cowley County judge.

Thurber feared the death penalty and, the night before his trial, tried to plea bargain to take capital punishment off the table, Jennifer Sanderholm told lawmakers, her voice wracked with emotion.

“He was scared and he didn’t want to die,” she said, surrounded by her mother Cindy and father Brian who also testified.

The parents of Heather Muller and Brad Heyka also testified against eliminating capital punishment. The two were raped and murdered in 2000 by the Carr brothers, along with two of their friends.

“Heather was murdered by Jonathan and Reginald Carr, Dec. 15, 2000,” said Lois Muller, Heather’s mother. “Words can’t begin to put an understanding to the impact that sentence has had on our lives.”

Muller urged lawmakers to consider the potential consequences of eliminating capital punishment.

“By repealing the death penalty in Kansas, you will be placing the lives of others in jeopardy,” she said.

The committee wrapped up three days of testimony Thursday on two proposals, Senate Bill 208 and Senate Bill 375, that would abolish Kansas’ death penalty. Those who support doing away with the death penalty say those cases cost more and that the death sentence does not deter crime.

Senate Bill 375 would eliminate the death penalty for crimes committed on or after July 1 and create the crime of aggravated murder, which would come with an automatic sentence of life without parole.

It would not affect the 10 people now on death row.

Senate Bill 208, which was debated in 2009 but sent back to committee, would eliminate the death penalty sentence. Although the bill did not state the change would be retroactive, questions were raised about what would happen if one of the current death penatly cases were re-sentenced.

Chairman Sen. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, said the committee would work the bills Jan. 29.

Kansas reinstated the death penalty in 1994. The state has not executed anyone since 1965.

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