The Kansas death penalty is being put on trial in a Sedgwick County capital murder case with a special set of hearings February 6 through 8.
Kyle Young, an African American man, is charged with capital murder in the January 22, 2020 deaths of Alicia Roman and George Kirksey. He faces the death penalty if convicted.
His attorneys have filed a pretrial challenge to the Kansas death penalty. Their motion indicates that the Kansas death penalty violates the Kansas and US Constitutions in 3 ways:
- It violates the rights of a capital defendant to a fair and impartial jury.
- Because the death penalty in Kansas is arbitrary and discriminatory, that is a violation of the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
- There is no valid penological purpose to capital punishment due to the fact that the death penalty lacks deterrence and is very expensive.
In support of their motion, the attorneys have filed a number of expert reports on each of these topics. The experts include Kansans with personal experience with the Kansas criminal justice system, prominent attorneys, as well as distinguished national criminal justice researchers.
Their findings include:
- Death qualification of the jury pool in Sedgwick County (which must be done in capital cases) will result in a jury pool that “that is significantly and substantially more supportive of the death penalty than is the broader jury eligible population in the county…… this poses a significant risk to a fair trial, including at the penalty phase, especially for Black capital defendants.” (Report of Mona Lynch)
- Analysis of Kansas’ experience with death penalty cases since 1994 shows “There is strong reason to believe that the distinguishing features that separate the death-sentenced cases from those not leading to a death sentence are the racial and gender characteristics of the victims in the crime, as well as the combined race and gender of the offender and victim, considered together.”
This is contrary to the expectation of the US Supreme Court which said with capital cases there should be “evenhanded, rational, and consistent imposition of death sentences under law….” (Report of Frank Baumgartner)
- “…there is no credible evidence that the death penalty has a deterrent effect on homicide rates in Kansas or elsewhere in the United States. States that impose the death penalty in the face of uncertainty about the death penalty’s deterrent effects risk taking lives without a measurable return beyond vengeance or retribution. Executions of the innocent, or of those lacking in the requisite culpability for execution, are additional moral hazards, as is the diversion of public resources to pursue death sentences.” (Report of Jeffrey Fagan)
The pretrial challenge to the Kansas death penalty originally was filed in the case of Cornell McNeal, also from Sedgwick County. That case ultimately did not proceed with the risk of a death sentence, so these unique legal issues were not pursued in that case. They have now been taken up in the case of Mr. Young.
To read the in depth expert reports on the ACLU web site, click here.