Thursday, August 21, 2014

Botched execution renews capital punishment debate

4/30/2014

Local and state prosecutors spent a significant amount of time deciding whether to seek the death penalty against Kyle Flack, 28, Ottawa, who was charged in a spring 2013 quadruple homicide in rural Ottawa. If Flack is convicted and sentenced to death, it still would be years before an execution because of the lengthy appeals process, which allows those convicted to plead their cases at the state and federal level.

Nine Kansas inmates (eight housed at the Super Maximum Compound at the El Dorado Correctional Facility and one housed at the Lansing Correctional Facility) already have been sentenced to death — following the state’s reinstatement of the death penalty in 1994 — but none are expected to be executed any time soon.

Local and state prosecutors spent a significant amount of time deciding whether to seek the death penalty against Kyle Flack, 28, Ottawa, who was charged in a spring 2013 quadruple homicide in rural Ottawa. If Flack is convicted and sentenced to death, it still would be years before an execution because of the lengthy appeals process, which allows those convicted to plead their cases at the state and federal level.

Nine Kansas inmates (eight housed at the Super Maximum Compound at the El Dorado Correctional Facility and one housed at the Lansing Correctional Facility) already have been sentenced to death — following the state’s reinstatement of the death penalty in 1994 — but none are expected to be executed any time soon.

That could change, however.

The lengthy appeals process in Kansas could be shortened if some lawmakers have their way. The legislation in question — Senate Bill 257 — would require direct death penalty appeals to be decided within three years of the defendant’s trial court conviction. That is a dramatic reduction in time from the sometimes decades-long process of extensions and appeals granted to inmates. The case of two brothers, Jonathan and Reginald Carr, convicted of brutally killing four people in Wichita 12 years ago remains in an appeals process because of 28 time extensions and six years to prepare their appeals. The duo’s legal team has tried any number of maneuvers to forestall their executions.

When death finally comes for these convicts, it will be, in theory, in the form of a lethal injection, though the exact formula for such a deadly cocktail isn’t yet on the radar of Kansas Department of Corrections officials, Jeremy Barclay, communications director for the agency, said Wednesday. It will be many years before the state is ready for an execution — thanks, in part, to the appeals delays — and drug availability and technology are likely to change.

Still, the “botched” execution of Clayton Lockett Tuesday evening in Oklahoma, however, piqued some Kansans’ interest in exactly what mixture of drugs are used in lethal injections. Lockett’s execution is thought to have gone awry — the convicted murderer and rapist died of an apparent heart attack moments after problems with the injection were detected — because of a new cocktail used instead of the traditional execution drug sedative sodium thiopental.

Sodium thiopental has been unavailable for executions because the sole U.S. manufacturer quit making the drug and European nations won’t export the drug to the U.S. because of ethical concerns about lethal injections. Consequently, new less robust drug compounds are being concocted that seemingly don’t accomplish a quick death. Lockett’s death wasn’t the only hiccup associated with such reformulated cocktails for lethal injections, and another execution planned Tuesday in Oklahoma was postponed.

Some contend Lockett endured “cruel and unusual punishment,” during the 45 minutes preceding his death, which, if true, violates the U.S. Constitution’s eighth amendment. Others contend — botched execution or not — the punishment fit the crime. (Lockett was convicted of first-degree murder, rape, kidnapping and robbery in a 1999 crime spree in which he shot teenager Stephanie Nieman and buried her alive in a shallow grave where she eventually died, Reuters reported.)

Ottawa’s accused killer, Kyle Flack, who waived his right to a speedy trial, won’t even face a jury until September 2015. That means, if he’s eventually convicted of capital murder, Flack wouldn’t face his own death (at the hands of the state anyway) for many years to come.

As lawmakers debate the appeals process; lawyers, courts, chemists and advocates argue over methods of execution; and death row convicts and the families of their victims count the days until they head to the proverbial gallows, only one thing is certain: The death penalty in Kansas remains a waiting game.

Jeanny Sharp,

editor and publisher

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