On Thursday, March 15th the House Standing Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice held a special informational hearing on the Kansas death penalty. Perhaps the most exciting part was the crowd of people that packed the committee room to show their support for abolition! Abolitionists wore name tags featuring a sunflower and the number 17, reflecting our desire to make Kansas the 17th state to repeal the death penalty.
Nine people provided testimony against capital punishment, while three argued for it’s continued use. Their testimony will be available below shortly, listed in the order in which they appeared before the committee.
Those testifying in support of abolition were:
- Ron Wurtz. Vice-Chair of KCADP and a Federal Public Defender. Mr. Wurtz highlighted the written testimony of Eddie Lowery, a man who spent 10 years in Kansas prison for a crime he didn’t commit, to show that the Kansas criminal justice system doesn’t always get it right. For Mr. Wurtz, there is too much uncertainty, and human error to execute someone in Kansas.
- Kristi Smith. Member of Murder Victim Families for Reconciliation of Kansas and KCADP board member. Kristi told of her father’s murder and how she ultimately found healing through reconciliation and forgiveness of the killers. Had the death penalty been in place, she would not have been able to reach this peace by speaking with the murderers.
- Michael Schuttloffel. Executive Director of the Kansas Catholic Conference. Michael spoke of the Catholic Church’s opposition to the death penalty which has evolved over the past 30 years to a more firm and active opposition. The Catholic Church sees no need for the death penalty, which degrades our society, when life without parole is a cost-effective, and safe alternative.
- R. Shawn Streepy. Former federal prosecutor and Episcopal Priest. After more than 2 decades experience as a federal prosecutor, Mr. Streepy has come to the same startling conclusion. The death penalty is applied too arbitrarily and includes too much human error to be pursued with any assurance of justice.
- Celeste Dixon. Member of Murder Victim Families for Reconciliation of Kansas. Celeste believes that holding on to anger at the man who murdered her mother in Texas did not allow her to heal. She witnessed that man’s execution in Texas and told the committee that it did not bring her closure. Rather, the death penalty simply robbed another family of their son.
- Steve Becker. Former District Court Judge for Reno County. In 26 years serving as a judge, mostly in criminal cases, Becker was never 100% certain of a decision he made. Misleading information, false confessions and bad eyewitness testimony are commonplace in our judicial system, making it too uncertain to be trusted with life and death decisions.
- Rev. John D. Kreidler. Bishops Associate, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – Central States Synod. Rev. Kreidler introduced a letter opposing the death penalty signed by 324 faith leaders from Kansas. He spoke on behalf of the ELCA which, in it’s social statement, opposes the death penalty because it diverts society’s attention from the root cause of violence towards retribution.
- John Todd. Involved with American’s for Prosperity and Vice President of the Wichita Pachyderm Club, though he did not speak at the hearing on behalf of those organizations. Mr. Todd argued that Capital Punishment is pre-meditated murder by the State, and it is carried out by a judicial system that is at best uncertain and at worst corrupt. In the end, for Mr. Todd, the death penalty is morally wrong.
- Carolyn Zimmerman. Member of Murder Victim Families for Reconciliation and Volunteer for KCADP. Carolyn confirmed what many had said already, the death penalty does not bring closure or healing to the families of murder victims. Her father was killed in 1969 and no one was ever charged with the crime. MVFR of Kansas opposes the death penalty because a desire for revenge does not foster healing.
After the hearing supporters gathered outside of the room to chat with each other and exchange congratulations on a job well done. Everyone played a part, whether they testified, took photos, volunteered to make calls before the hearing, or proudly sported their name tag in support of abolition. Some people even took the opportunity to find their legislators and talk with them personally about the overwhelming need to repeal the death penalty.
This hearing was a great step forward. It has been over a decade since any House committee heard testimony on repeal of the death penalty and as we continue to talk with our legislators, momentum towards abolition continues to build.
Please consider submitting a letter to the editor to your local paper about the hearing by clicking here. This is a great way to get word about the failings of death penalty to more people in your community.
Thanks to everyone who came and for all of you who continue the struggle for abolition in Kansas.