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Morning Sun
  • PATRICK'S PEOPLE: Life and the Death Penalty for George Weeks

  • It actually costs taxpayers more to kill a murderer than it does to lock him or her up for life, according to George Weeks, Pittsburg.

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  • It actually costs taxpayers more to kill a murderer than it does to lock him or her up for life, according to George Weeks, Pittsburg.
    That’s only one of the points the volunteer for the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty plans to bring up during an informational meeting scheduled at 7 p.m. April  9 at the First Christian Church.
    Rev. Kevin Arensman, church pastor, said that the  church, by hosting the meeting, does not take a stand for or against the death penalty.
    “We decided to do this to encourage the conversation,” the pastor said.
    Weeks said that his role is to provide information on the death penalty and some of the problems it poses.
    “The truth is, there are many problems with the death penalty, and one of them is economic,” he said. “It costs 70 percent more to prosecute a death penalty case than it does a life without parole case. The investigation costs three times more, the trial costs 16 times more and the appeals, which are a constitutional right and can’t be done away with, cost 21 times more. All of this costs money that could have gone to help the families of murder victims or to crime prevention.”
    Also, the death penalty is  not applied impartially.
    “A guilty person with money is more likely to get off in a death penalty case than a poor person with no money,” Weeks said. “The death penalty also targets minorities.”
    Even where a person lives is a factor.
    “Fifty percent of the death penalty cases in Kansas are in Sedgwick County,” Weeks said. “The same crime committed elsewhere in the state is  far less likely to result in a death penalty case.”
    There are also 142 individuals now walking free who were previously locked up on death row, but were exonerated of their crime.
    “They’re the lucky ones,” Weeks said.  “It’s very likely that some innocent people have been executed. Once somebody is executed, you cannot give them their life back.”
    A year ago he served as a volunteer at a National Innocence Network conference in Kansas City.
    “The Innocence Network uses evidence, primarily DNA, to prove the innocence of those already found guilty,” he said. “I was in a room with about 100  people from all over the United States who came up to the microphone, told who they were, what they had been convicted of and how they came to be exonerated. It was a very powerful thing for me. Amazingly, there was no sense of bitterness on the part of these people.”
    Weeks added that the sentence of life in prison without parole, which Kansas already has on the books does protect society from those who really are guilty.
    Page 2 of 3 - “The hope is to change only one law, a law that doesn’t work, and eliminate the death penalty from Kansas statutes,” he said. “States that no longer have the death penalty in general have the lowest murder rates. This points to violence breeding violence at some level.”
    He also believes that the death penalty can prolong the suffering of the families of murder victims.
    “Families may have to wait 10 or 15 years, until the appeals run out, for some kind of resolution,” Weeks said. “Many family members of murdered persons have spoken out against the death penalty. I was at a conference where a former prison warden spoke out against it because of the toll it took on him and his staff.”
    The state of Kansas has a mixed record on the death penalty, a nonpartisan issue, with opposition and support for the penalty on both sides of the legislative aisle.
    “Kansas became a state in 1861, passed a death penalty law in 1862 and had the first execution in 1863,” Weeks said. “In 1870 there was a public hanging, which was against Kansas law. After 1872, the Kansas governor had to sign a death warrant for an execution to be held, and from 1872 to 1907 no governor chose to sign a warrant. The governor in 1907 was opposed to the death penalty, so from 1907 to 1935 there was no death penalty in Kansas.”
    He said the death penalty was brought back in 1935, but no executions were held until 1944.
    “From 1944 to 1954 there were executions in Kansas, then Gov. George Docking was opposed to the death policy and commuted the sentences of death row inmates,” Weeks said. “There were no executions between 1954 to  1962.”
    He said there have been no executions in Kansas since 1965, though the death penalty was reinstated in 1994.  A 2010 bill in the Kansas Senate to abolish the death penalty resulted in a 20-20 tie vote.
    “There are now 18 states without the death penalty,” Weeks said.
    He said that he had always “leaned against” it, but really began thinking about the death penalty three years ago after reading “The Innocent Man” by John Grisham.
    “It was based on a true case where two men were convicted of murder, one sentenced to death and the other to life in prison,” Weeks said. “Grisham wrote about all the problems with the trial, including prosecutorial misconduct. The prosecutor even brought the actual murderer in to testify against the two defendants. He was later identified as the killer through DNA evidence.”
    Then he heard Sister Helen Prejean, author of “Dead Man Walking,” speak during her visit to Pittsburg.
    “That really kicked things in gear for me,” he said.
    It was a natural progression for Weeks, originally from Coffeyville, who has lived in Pittsburg the past 33 years.
    Page 3 of 3 - “I was a medical social worker, so I’ve always been involved in the human side of things,” he said. “We have had retribution with us since the beginning of time and it has not really helped.”
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