It’s too bad there are so many obstacles to actually carrying out the death penalty of a murderer in Kansas because the suspect in the recent killing of two sheriff’s deputies in Wyandotte County — if found guilty — should be sentenced to die by lethal injection.
That should send a clear message that when you murder cops in cold blood or commit mass murder, your life also will end, sooner rather than later. Although research finds that the death penalty may not deter murders today, some experts believe if executions happened more quickly, there could be a significant deterrent effect.
In Kansas, the death penalty must be decided by a unanimous vote of a jury in cases of first-degree murder without aggravating factors. The murder in Wyandotte County appears to be such a case. An inmate being transferred in a van got hold of the gun of one of the two deputies present, then fatally shot them both. Antoine Fielder has been charged in the two deaths and has been booked into the Johnson County Jail.
Kansas is not big on capital punishment, although it is among 33 states where it is legal. Only two of those death-penalty states — Kansas and New Hampshire — have carried out no executions since capital punishment was reinstated in the U.S. in 1976. Kansas does have nine inmates on “death row,” but complex laws and a Kansas Supreme Court that appears to want to stall these cases have resulted in executions being postponed indefinitely.
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The death penalty should be the punishment in the Wyandotte County case, and the legal morass should be cleared away to allow for this execution to actually occur. But there has not been a groundswell of support for expediting executions because Kansans have been squishy when it comes to actually following through on death sentences.
In 1978, Kansas Gov. Robert Bennett, a former Republican attorney from Prairie Village, was defeated for re-election after one term by John Carlin, the Democratic candidate who ran on the platform of get-tough-on-crime by legalizing the death penalty in Kansas. Carlin beat Bennett and then immediately changed his mind. He vetoed legislation in 1979, 1980, 1981 and 1985 that would have made capital punishment legal in Kansas. He explained this change of heart as the result of soul-searching that led him to see capital punishment as immoral.
Of the states that allow the death penalty, Kansas became the last to reinstate that punishment in 1994. It happened during the reign of former Kansas Gov. Joan Finney, who announced she personally opposed capital punishment but allowed it to become law in Kansas without her signature.
If only for retribution, there needs to be a punishment for killing two law enforcement officers that is harsher than sending the killer to a life in prison. And that should be nothing less than a death sentence.
That opinion puts me line with the majority of Americans who believe capital punishment is justified in the case of murder. Although I have not seen a survey indicating how citizens feel about the murder of law enforcement officers, I imagine the numbers would be even higher, perhaps significantly so. As it is, in the United States, 55 percent favor the death penalty if a person is convicted of murder. That number has dropped markedly over the past 25 years from a high of 80 percent in favor.
At the same time, there have been movements in several states to create specific legislation identifying “death penalty murders.” That penalty would be the mandatory sentence for those who are convicted of killing a law enforcement officer — as well as for mass murderers.
Kansas should consider such a law. This would take the sentencing discretion away from a jury when such murders are committed. Capital punishment would and should always apply in those heinous cases. Then we must do more to make certain execution by lethal injection in Kansas is swiftly implemented in hopes of deterring would-be cop killers and mass murderers.