Bill abolishing death penalty to get cursory glance

By: Samantha Foster
The Capital-Journal
Sunday, March 11, 2012

A House bill that would abolish the death penalty in Kansas and add the crime of aggravated murder with a sentencing of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole will receive an informational hearing Thursday, but it is doubtful any action will be taken.

Kansas had the death penalty statute until a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling struck it down, but the court reversed its decision in 1976. Kansas reinstated the death penalty in 1994. The state hasn’t carried out a death sentence since then, but nine Kansas capital inmates are currently awaiting execution with an additional capital inmate awaiting resentencing.

During the 2011 legislative session, the House bill to repeal the death penalty statute for crimes committed after July 1, 2012, and replace the punishment with life without the possibility of parole never received a hearing by the Federal and State Affairs Committee. Two separate Senate bills would have abolished the death penalty, but neither made it far. During the 2010 legislative session, the Senate was one vote short of passing a death penalty abolishment bill.

The bill, HB 2323, was introduced by the House Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice on Feb. 11, 2011, before being referred to Federal and State Affairs three days later. It didn't receive a hearing last year, but on Friday, Rep. Pat Colloton’s secretary said the bill had been scheduled for an informational hearing before the federal and state affairs committee Thursday. Colloton, a Leawood Republican, is chairwoman of the corrections committee.

The last time an execution was carried out in Kansas was in 1965, when Perry Edward Smith and Richard Eugene Hickock were hanged by the state for the brutal murders of four members of the Clutter family in 1959 in Holcomb. Truman Capote wrote about the murders in the famous work titled “In Cold Blood.”

The current death penalty statute was enacted in 1994 when Gov. Joan Finney allowed it to become law without her signature.

The nine inmates awaiting execution in Kansas are:

■ James Kraig Kahler, convicted in October 2011 of murdering his estranged wife, Karen Kahler; two teenage daughters, Lauren and Emily; and Karen’s grandmother, Dorothy Wight, in Wight’s Burlingame home in November 2009.

■ Douglas Belt, convicted in November 2004 of capital murder, attempted rape and aggravated arson in the killing of Lucille Gallegos in Wichita. According to the Kansas Department of Corrections’ KASPER records, he is being held at El Dorado Correctional Facility.

■ Reginald Carr, convicted of capital murder for the December 15, 2000, murders of Jason Befort, Brad Heyka, Heather Muller and Aaron Sander and of first-degree murder for killing Ann Walenta four days before the quadruple murder. He is being held at El Dorado.

■ Jonathan Carr, convicted of the same five murders as his older brother Reginald. He is being held at El Dorado.

■ Scott Cheever, convicted in November 2007 of killing Greenwood County Sheriff Matt Samuels in January 2005. He is being held at Lansing.

■ Sidney John Gleason, convicted in July 2006 in the shooting deaths of Miki Martinez and Darren Wormkey in February 2004. He is being held at El Dorado.

■ Gary Wayne Kleypas, convicted for the 1996 rape and murder of Carrie Williams in Pittsburg. He is being held at El Dorado.

■ John Edward Robinson Sr., convicted of capital murder in the deaths of Izabel Lewicka and Suzette Trouten and of first-degree murder in the case of Lisa Stasi, who disappeared in 1985 and was never found. He is being held at El Dorado.

■ Justin Thurber, sentenced to death for the January 2007 killing of 19-year-old college student Jodi Sanderholm. He is being held at El Dorado.

A 10th death sentence, that of Phillip Cheatham, is under litigation. Cheaver was convicted in September 2005 of one count of capital murder, two counts of first degree murder and one count of attempted first degree murder in the deaths of Gloria Jones and Annette Roberson. A third victim, Annetta Thomas, played dead and survived with 19 gunshot wounds. In 2010 he was granted resentencing, which hasn’t yet been completed. He is being held at Lansing Correctional Facility.