Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Church challenges death penalty

By DYLAN LYSEN, Herald Staff Writer | 3/7/2014

LYNDON — Curtis McCarty was sentenced to death by the State of Oklahoma for a crime he didn’t commit, Loren Drummond, pastor at Lyndon United Methodist Church, said. If a bill now under consideration in the Kansas Legislature — aimed at quickening executions of death row inmates — was law today, someone like McCarty already would be dead.

“Curtis [McCarty] would be a dead man under these laws,” Drummond said.

LYNDON — Curtis McCarty was sentenced to death by the State of Oklahoma for a crime he didn’t commit, Loren Drummond, pastor at Lyndon United Methodist Church, said. If a bill now under consideration in the Kansas Legislature — aimed at quickening executions of death row inmates — was law today, someone like McCarty already would be dead.

“Curtis [McCarty] would be a dead man under these laws,” Drummond said.

The Lyndon United Methodist Church, 126 W. Eighth St., Lyndon, is playing host to McCarty, who on Wednesday will share his experience as a death row inmate wrongly convicted and discuss the aftermath of his exoneration. Drummond said McCarty’s appearance is the church’s fourth and final Wednesday forum on the subject of the Kansas death penalty, which Drummond said the church and the United Methodist denomination condemns.

McCarty is set to speak 6:45 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the church. The forum is in conjunction with the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty.

McCarty was convicted and sentenced to death in 1986 for the murder of an 18-year-old girl, who was raped, stabbed and strangled Dec. 10, 1982, according to the New York Times. The court of Criminal Appeals overturned the verdict in 1989, but McCarty was retried and convicted again the same year, but without the death sentence. The death sentence was reinstated in 1996. McCarty was exonerated because evidence in the case against him had been tainted or destroyed by a former police chemist.

Since his exoneration, McCarty has been advocating to repeal the death penalty world-wide, according to a news release, including voicing opposition to Kansas’ Senate Substitute for House Bill 2389. The Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty said the Substitute for HB 2389 would hasten executions and limit the safeguards in place to protect the wrongfully convicted.

The state Senate passed the bill Feb. 13 with a 27-13 vote. All eight Democratic senators, along with five Republican senators, voted against the bill, including state Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker. Tyson opposed the bill, she said, because she wants to be careful when a human life is at stake.

“I understand their reasoning for wanting to expedite the process to save money,” Tyson said. “But when you’re talking about somebody’s life, you want to make sure they were accurately convicted, so I was treading cautiously on that.”

State Sen. Pat Apple, R-Louisburg, who previously represented Franklin County in the state Senate, said he voted to pass the bill, in part, because it would give more structure to the death penalty process. He also noted Kansas has one of the lowest numbers of inmates on death row in the nation.

“It’s important to realize we have probably the most restrictive capital murder law in the United States,” Apple said. “What’s happened is that some of the appeals processes have just drug on. This just sets certain perimeters for the appeals process, certain perimeters not really to expedite it more than what would be considered normal. It’s just there weren’t any guidelines before, and if there were, they were being ignored. That’s why I voted for it, just to give some structure to the process.”

McCarty said the bill won’t have an immediate affect, but could put innocent lives at risk.

“Twenty-one years passed after my conviction before I finally proved my innocence,” McCarty said. “If [HB 2389] goes forward, you will not see the result immediately, but years later it could put an innocent life in danger. That prospect should scare all of us.”

Pastor Drummond said he originally didn’t have an opinion of the death penalty until he witnessed a death chamber for himself. After the experience, he said, he felt that humans have no right to end a life, no matter what.

“I really used to be ambivalent about the death penalty,” Drummond said. “I didn’t have any strong feelings one way or the other until I stood in the death chamber in the prison in Oklahoma. When I stood there, I could see this for what it was. There was a theological thing that was at work here, that I was standing in a chancel area, and the death gurney was the altar. There was a congregation that came to watch this sacrifice.

“I could see exactly what was wrong with the death penalty. What we’re doing is sacrificing things to the gods of vengeance and wrath, sacrificing human beings,” Drummond said. “That’s absolutely wrong. I think there are some people who need to be separated from society, but I don’t think it’s our position to kill them.”

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