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‘Why would I trust the government?’: Kansas conservatives speak against death penalty

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During a Saturday meeting, members of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty discuss the importance of preserving lives

TOPEKA — No one has been executed in Kansas since 1965.

Citing anti-abortion beliefs and love for Jesus Christ, several Kansas conservatives affirmed Saturday their commitment to making sure that status continues.

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During the Kansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty’s annual meeting Saturday in Wichita, discussion veered between Lee Harvey Oswald, public schools, religion and the root causes of violence. But members of a conservative group that attended the meeting came back to two central themes: distrust of the government and belief in the sanctity of life.

“I don’t even trust the government to ensure that I get my packages on time,” said Demetrius Minor, national manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. “Why would I trust the government — and I say this in absence of hyperbole or exaggeration — why would I trust the government with a matter of life and death?”

“I say that I’m pro-life,” Minor added. “I am talking about being pro-life from start to finish.”

The fight to end the death penalty has been a long one. Kansas is one of 27 states that still has the death penalty, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty in 40 states, Kansas included, in 1972. But in 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld new death penalty statutes in three states, clearing the way for other states to follow. In 1994, the Kansas Legislature re-enacted the death penalty law, establishing lethal injection as a sentencing option for those 18 or older and convicted of capital murder.

Attempts to eliminate Kansas’ death penalty have been renewed this year. A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill that would have abolished the death penalty during the 2023 legislative session, though the bill never left the committee.

In February, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas also launched a constitutional challenge to the death penalty, arguing the Kansas death penalty is racially discriminatory and unconstitutional, among other points, such as the possibility of wrongful convictions and the execution of innocent people.

The most recent data from the Kansas Department of Corrections, updated in 2021,  shows Kansas has nine men on death row. Of these men, six are white and three are Black.

Nationally, there has been a decline in trust of the capital punishment system. The October 2023 Gallup Crime Survey reported that, for the first time, more Americans believe the death penalty is applied unfairly than fairly, at 50% to 47%.

The survey reported that around 53% of Americans favor the death penalty in general, down from the peak popularity of the sentence in 1994, when 80% of Americans surveyed were in favor of the death penalty for people convicted of murder.

But as support wanes among the general population, national Republican leaders have continued to promote the death penalty.

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis approved legislation that expanded the death penalty in his state and signed a law eliminating unanimous jury vote requirements. Former President Donald Trump called for an expansion of the death penalty to include drug dealers. Former vice president Mike Pence told members of the National Rifle Association that he was in favor of expediting the death penalty for mass shooters.

Panelists on Saturday briefly discussed the dissonance.

“I supported the death penalty, but I supported it by default,” Minor said. “I really couldn’t tell you why. I just felt as a conservative, it was expected of me to support the death penalty.”

Coalition panelist Dalton Glasscock, who won election Tuesday to the Wichita City Council, said the state’s history of abolition and bridge the gap politics lent itself to the movement.

“It’s a history of common sense solutions,” Glasscock said. “I think this is a common sense solution that can be bipartisan. You can have people from different walks of life, different faith ideology, political ideologies, different backgrounds, experiences that can all agree on this issue.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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