Kan. Senate advances death penalty appeals changes

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas senators advanced a bill on Wednesday shortening the time limits for inmates sentenced to death to complete their appeals to the state Supreme Court, a move supporters argued would expedite the execution of justice.

The measure received first-round approval on a voice vote, setting up a final vote Thursday that would send the measure to the House.

The bill creates a 3½-year time limit for the appeals to be heard and decided by the court. The measure would not affect any subsequent appeals, including those made to the U.S. Supreme Court. It also sets limits on the length of documents that can be filed with the seven-member state court, as well as stating that death penalty appeals would be placed ahead of all other types of pending cases to be heard.

Senate Vice President Jeff King, an Independence Republican, said the bill was necessary to expedite justice and get the required automatic appeals through the Kansas Supreme Court.

Kansas has not carried out an execution since reinstating the death penalty in 1994. Nine men are under death sentences in state prisons, and no execution dates have been set because appeals are still pending in state courts. The last execution in Kansas was in 1965 by hanging.

King said the average death penalty appeal has taken nearly 10 years to be heard by the state Supreme Court.

“This is unacceptable. It’s not seen in any part of the country,” King said.

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican and death penalty opponent, said even though Kansas has a narrow death penalty law, it isn’t perfect.

“Now we’re going to hurry things up and mistakes can be made,” she said.

King said the changes also would limit the number of times that an inmate could raise the issue of ineffective counsel as grounds for so-called collateral appeals once the initial appeal process is complete.

Sen. David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat, failed to amend the bill that would have required the state to pay the estate of any inmate $5 million who was executed and later to be found wrongfully convicted of capital murder.

“It’s a nightmare that hopefully none of us will ever see,” Haley said.

King said that Kansas law already allows people to file wrongful death lawsuits to seek damages.

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