Death Penalty: Yes
Ad Astra per Aspera Statue on the Capitol Dome.
Ad Astra per Aspera, meaning “To the Stars through Difficulty” is the Kansas State Motto.
The Clutter Family
The murders of Herbert Clutter, his wife and two of his children in Holcomb became one of Kansas’ most famous cases when Truman Capote chronicled the murders and the trial in his 1966 book, In Cold Blood.
Richard “Dick” Hickok and Perry Smith, two parolees, were convicted of the murders. They were both executed by hanging on April 14, 1965.
Marsh was convicted and sentenced to death for the killings of Marry Ane and Marry Elizabeth Pusch in 1996. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty statute was unconstitutional because of its requirement that, when a jury finds during a sentencing hearing that the mitigating and aggravating factors are equal, they must choose death.
The US Supreme Court overturned this decision in June 2006. Justice Scalia wrote a concurring opinion in this case where he claimed:
"It should be noted at the outset that the dissent does not discuss a single case—not one—in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit. If such an event had occurred in recent years, we would not have to hunt for it; the innocent’s name would be shouted from the rooftops by the abolition lobby."
This case and Scalia’s opinion led to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty's “Shouting from the Rooftops” campaign.
While there have been no death penalty exonerations in Kansas, there have been two very notable felony exonerations: Eddie James Lowery and Joe Jones.
• Eddie James Lowery was convicted of rape in 1982 after he falsely confessed to a crime he did not commit. Lowery was questioned for an entire day with no food and no rest, and was not provided a lawyer when he requested one. Under duress, he confessed to the rape hoping to be found innocent during his trial. Instead, because he was not under arrest at the time, the court allowed his false confession to be used in the trial. He was paroled after nearly 10 years, and was not exonerated by DNA evidence until 2002.
• Joe Jones was convicted of kidnapping, assault and rape in 1986 and given a life sentence. The victim identified a different man when presented with a photo array, but identified Jones as her rapist in person. Jones was exonerated by DNA evidence in 1992 after court officials allowed the rape kit to be tested.
Before his term ended, Governor George Docking (1957-1960) commuted the sentences of two of the five inmates on death row, Earl Wilson and Bobbie Joe Spencer. Governor Docking was also responsible for a hiatus in Kansas executions between 1954 and 1960. The only executions that took place in Kansas during those years were at the US Army and Air Force Disciplinary Barracks.
Attempts at abolition/reinstatement
• The Kansas death penalty has been abolished and reinstated three times. The state’s death penalty was first abolished on January 30, 1907 by Governor Hoch. For that reason, January 30 is celebrated by KCADP as “Abolition Day” in Kansas.
• In 1935, the death penalty was reinstated, but no executions took place under the law until 1944. Kansas had this death penalty statute in effect until the 1972 US Supreme Court ruling that struck down the death penalty.
• After the 1976 US Supreme Court Ruling that reinstated the constitutionality of the death penalty, numerous attempts were made to reinstate the death penalty. Governor Carlin vetoed reinstatement legislation in 1979, 1980, 1981, and 1985. The current death penalty statute was enacted in 1994 when Governor Finney allowed it to become law without her signature.
• In 2010, the Kansas Senate was one vote short of voting to replace the death penalty with life without the possibility of parole for the crime of aggravated murder.
Other interesting facts
• Of states that still allow the death penalty, Kansas was the last state to reinstate the death penalty in the modern era. (New York resinated its death penalty in 1995, but abolished it in 2007)
• Kansas has not executed an inmate since 1965.
• The U.S. Military's death row is located at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Many thanks to the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty for contributing to this page.