Commentary: Death penalty hasn't worked in Kansas

This editorial appeared in The Wichita Eagle.

"The American people have determined that the good to be derived from capital punishment outweighs the risk of error," wrote Justice Antonin Scalia in 2006 in support of the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding Kansas' death penalty.

Three years later, that good remains elusive in Kansas.

None of the 12 men sentenced to die under the 15-year-old law is near execution; two have been re-sentenced to life in prison, and another is awaiting re-sentencing.

Each step of each murderer's appeal – a process that, to avert error, is highly complex by necessity – seems to reveal another problem with the law.

The latest snag affected the murderer whose case the high court addressed: that of Michael Marsh, who was sentenced to death for the 1996 murders of a Wichita woman and her 19-month-old daughter. A 2008 state court ruling in another case effectively meant Sedgwick County prosecutors couldn't retry Marsh; under a plea bargain, he was re-sentenced this month to life in prison.

Lawyers predict more cases will be affected by the court's ruling, which said that prosecutors can file only a single capital murder charge in cases involving multiple murder victims. That will mean more delays, costs and uncertainty.

Meanwhile, a legislative effort led by state Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, to repeal the death penalty primarily to save money stopped short of a vote in the Kansas Senate this session and is slated for more study. Maybe next year the issue will get the full legislative re-examination it deserves – not just because each death penalty case costs an average 70 percent more than each non-capital case, but because of the punishment's uneven application around the state and questionable value as a deterrent.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Wichita Eagle.