EDITORIALS: "End the Death Penalty in Kansas and Missouri"

The Kansas City Star recently called for an end to the death penalty in Kansas and Missouri. The editors wrote, "The arc of history is bending toward justice when it comes to the death penalty, and there’s no good reason Missouri and Kansas should lag behind and continue to be on the wrong side of both history and justice." The high costs of implementing capital punishment and the risks of wrongful executions were among the  reasons cited for doing away with the punishment. With respect to innocence, the paper stated, "The Innocence Project reports that, through the use of DNA evidence, 18 death row prisoners so far have been exonerated. They already had served a total of 229 years behind bars in 11 different states. That should never happen. Nor should execution of the innocent, but the only way to be positive it doesn’t is to ban capital punishment." Kansas has not had a execution since it reinstated the death penalty in 1994. The editorial concluded, “Kansas and Missouri should follow Maryland’s recent example and become the 19th and 20th states to adopt a sane and civilized approach to this matter.” Read full editorial below.

End the death penalty in Kansas and Missouri

Earlier this month Maryland did away with the death penalty, which now is banned in 18 states and the District of Columbia.

Sadly, Missouri and Kansas are not among the states whose lawmakers have understood what an unjust and costly system capital punishment is. Measures to abolish or even temporarily halt the death penalty have gone nowhere over the years in both legislatures.

So it’s time for citizens and enlightened lawmakers to plan ways to make this matter of life and death a top priority in these two states for the next legislative sessions.

The arc of history is bending toward justice when it comes to the death penalty, and there’s no good reason Missouri and Kansas should lag behind and continue to be on the wrong side of both history and justice.

Both states continue to support capital punishment even though the evidence is clear that operating a system designed to execute prisoners is much more costly than sending them to prison without the possibility of parole when convicted of heinous crimes.

In Kansas, 13 men have been sentenced to death since the state reinstated capital punishment in 1994, but no one has been executed.

A 2003 study calculated that the litigation and incarceration expenses of capital cases are 70 percent higher than what it costs the state to seek justice in murder cases in which the death penalty isn’t in play.

In 2008, for instance, the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice estimated that the annual cost of the present death penalty system there was $137 million. By contrast, it estimated that the annual cost of a system that instead imposed a maximum penalty of life in prison would be $11.5 million.

So if this were merely a matter of economics, the death penalty should be tossed out.

But, of course, it’s much more than that. Despite the costliness of capital litigation, the prospects for error are much too high.

The Innocence Project reports that, through the use of DNA evidence, 18 death row prisoners so far have been exonerated. They already had served a total of 229 years behind bars in 11 different states. That should never happen. Nor should execution of the innocent, but the only way to be positive it doesn’t is to ban capital punishment.

There’s more: Killing people who are accused of killing people simply puts the state on the same debased moral level as the criminals. And although such executions certainly deter the now-dead prisoner from committing more crimes, there is sound research to suggest that capital punishment has no deterrent effect on people who may commit offenses that could result in a death sentence.

There’s a compelling argument that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment. What’s incontestable is that by permitting the death penalty the United States is keeping company with such countries as Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Cuba and Uganda. By contrast, all 47 members of the Council of Europe have either established a moratorium on the death penalty or abolished it altogether.

Surely it’s time for the U.S. to join the abolition movement. Kansas and Missouri should follow Maryland’s recent example and become the 19th and 20th states to adopt a sane and civilized approach to this matter.

(Editorial, "End the death penalty in Kansas and Missouri," Kansas City Star, May 27, 2013). See Costs and Innocence. Read more Editorials on the death penalty.