Guest Commentary

Rita Boller and Gene Kimmi: The Kansas death penalty is broken

Earlier in this legislative session, a group of conservative lawmakers and local leaders gathered at the Capitol in Topeka to call for an end to the death penalty in Kansas. One of the speakers, Rep. Bill Sutton, said something that particularly resonated with us: “There’s exactly zero utility for the tax dollars spent” on the death penalty. We could not agree more.

We did not arrive at this position lightly. A little over five years ago, our mother, Patricia Kimmi, was murdered in northeast Kansas. This tragedy devastated our family. Mom was the rock that our family leaned on, a constant source of love for us and our children. Losing someone so dear to murder necessarily shakes you and forces you to confront your own views on the death penalty.

Ultimately, our family remained committed in our opposition to the death penalty. That is what Mom would have wanted. She instilled in us the core value that we should protect all life, from conception to natural death. Explaining her own opposition to the death penalty, Mom would tell us, “You can’t be half pro-life.”

Beyond its incompatibility with a culture of life, the death penalty fails in other ways, which became apparent to us as we looked more closely at how it functions as a policy. Kansas has not executed anyone since 1965, yet each year Kansas taxpayers spend millions of dollars to keep this policy in place.

These costs result from the complex and prolonged trials and appeals associated with capital cases. Due to the irrevocable nature of capital punishment and past errors, courts have mandated extra legal hurdles that must be met before an execution can take place. These legal precedents — which are not changing anytime soon — guarantee that death penalty cases linger in the legal system for years and often decades.

For this reason, Kansas is far from the only state with a dysfunctional death penalty. Nationwide, most death sentences are overturned at some stage in the legal process. Occasionally, a legislator or prosecutor vows to expedite the legal process in death penalty cases. These proposals, however, inevitably end up being empty promises, given the federal laws and precedents governing death penalty cases.

Too often, those who suffer the most from the current system are murder victims’ families. When prosecutors choose to seek the death penalty, they guarantee a protracted legal process, which forces families to endure years of emotionally difficult trials and appeals. The death penalty keeps families stuck in the legal process, delaying when they can put difficult legal proceedings behind them and begin to heal.

In short, Kansas’ death penalty benefits no one. We are not alone in coming to this conclusion, as a number of other Kansas murder victims’ families also are expressing concerns with the death penalty. Kansas has hung on to its costly and broken death penalty for too long. It’s time that we as a state eliminate this harmful policy.

Rita Boller lives in Horton, Kan., and her brother Gene Kimmi lives in Lancaster, Kan.