Kansas May End Death Penalty to Save Money

In many states, unlikely casualty of economic crunch may be capital punishment.

ByABC News
February 28, 2009, 6:38 PM

Feb. 28, 2009 -- It was a gruesome crime: A 19-year-old college student, abducted, then raped and tortured, before her killer strangled her and dumped her body in a field.

It took a Kansas jury earlier this month only four hours to decide Jodi Sanderholm's attacker, Justin Thurber, deserved the ultimate penalty of death.

For Sanderholm's family, the death sentence was deserved.

"This is a great deterrent to anyone who thinks about doing a crime like this," her father, Brian, said after the sentencing.

But in the future, killers like Thurber could get a reprieve because of the nation's economic crisis. Kansas lawmakers now are weighing whether it's just too expensive to put people to death.

The average death penalty case costs the state of Kansas $1.26 million, compared to $740,000 for life in prison.

The Kansas judiciary committee this week spent two days debating whether the state should abolish the death penalty to save money--and instead send people like Thurber to prison for life.

"We are spending millions of dollars on a policy, though it sounds good and feels good, is costing us money that we do not have," said Democratic Sen. David Haley, testifying in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

The bill has bipartisan support. It was introduced by Republican Sen. Carolyn McGinn, who says the ecomoics of capital punishment no longer make sense in a state like Kansas.

"We are in a very difficult deficit situation," McGinn said in an interview earlier this week. "We have to look at every way we can to figure out where we can best use those dollars."

Kansas is not alone. With budget deficits skyrocketing, seven of the 36 states with the death penalty are now debating whether to abolish or limit it to ease their budget woes. Those states include Montana, New Mexico, Maryland, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Utah.

The economic crunch has hit state legal systems hard, and many already have begun cutting legal services or raising court fees. Kentucky is providing early release for some prison inmates. Iowa is giving one-day furloughs for court employees. Minnesota has cut public defenders.