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On January 1, 2017, the KHI News Service became part of KCUR public radio’s new initiative, the Kansas News Service. The Kansas News Service will continue to cover health policy news and broaden its scope to include education and politics. All stories produced by the former KHI News Service are archived here. Stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to

Opponents of Kansas death penalty pushing repeal bill

By Jim McLean | January 29, 2016

Opponents of Kansas death penalty pushing repeal bill
Photo by Jim McLean/KHI News Service Floyd Bledsoe speaks before a bipartisan group of legislators pushing for the repeal of the death penalty Thursday at the Statehouse. Bledsoe spent 16 years in prison on a murder conviction before DNA evidence proved his innocence.

A bipartisan group of Kansas legislators attempting to repeal the state’s death penalty say they’re building support among rank-and-file lawmakers but having trouble overcoming opposition from legislative leaders.

The legislators sponsoring the repeal bill say the death penalty is ineffective, wasteful and unjust.

Rep. Steven Becker, a Republican from Buhler and a former district court judge, said he knows firsthand that the judicial system makes mistakes. Since the early 1970s, he said, 156 people convicted of capital crimes were later found innocent and released from death row.

“We gave death sentences to innocent people because we have an imperfect system because we don’t require absolute certainty of guilt,” he said.

Several lawmakers in the bipartisan group spoke Thursday at a Statehouse rally that also featured Floyd Bledsoe, a Kansas man who spent 16 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. Freed in December with the help of DNA evidence, Bledsoe says he’s living proof that the justice system makes mistakes.

And, he said, the state can’t afford mistakes in death penalty cases.

“We have to stop the death penalty today. Tomorrow might be too late for one person,” Bledsoe said. “Think about it. Think about it, what is one life worth?”

Becker said he thinks death penalty opponents have the votes to pass the repeal bill in the House. But he said the Republican leaders who control the calendar are trying to keep the bill from coming to a vote.