A national fight against the death penalty is coming to Wichita on Mon., Feb. 6, and the team is asking for Wichitans and individuals across the state who oppose the death penalty to show up and help pack the courtroom. 

The National American Civil Liberties Union Capital Punishment Project, together with the ACLU of Kansas and the law firms of Hogan Lovells and Ali & Lockwood, have filed a pretrial challenge in the capital murder case Kyle Young, an African-American defendant who faces capital charges in a 2020 double-murder at a Wichita hotel. 

They’re challenging the constitutionality of the Kansas death penalty law, saying it violates state and federal prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment because it:

1.  Denies capital defendants a fair and impartial jury

2.  Is arbitrarily and discriminatorily applied, and

3.  Serves no legitimate penological purpose.

The ACLU has submitted to the court more than a dozen expert reports addressing a broad range of issues related to what the ACLU alleges is wrong with Kansas’ death penalty. Most of those experts will be expected to testify at the hearing. 

A report by Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Fagan, who examined death-eligible cases in Sedgwick County from 1994 to 2020, found that prosecutors’ decisions to seek the death penalty were influenced by race and gender. 

Fagan’s analysis “identified a consistent pattern of preferences by prosecutors to charge capital murder and seek the death penalty in cases where the victim is White, and especially when the victim is a White female.”

A juror selection process called “death-qualification” is identified by one expert as reducing the share of Black jurors eligible to serve on Sedgwick County capital juries. Death-qualification is the process of removing potential jurors from service in a capital case because of their expressed opposition to the death penalty. While 63.4% of White potential jurors indicated that they support the death penalty, 55.7% of potential Black jurors said they opposed it. In particular, 67.3% of White men expressed support for the death penalty, while 64.3% of Black women said they opposed it.

In addition, one expert reviewed 133 Kansas court decisions with claims that Kansas prosecutors had discriminatorily exercised discretionary jury strikes on the basis of race. Elisabeth Semel, founder of the Berkeley Law Death Penalty Clinic at UC Berkeley School of Law, found that Kansas prosecutors “disproportionately exercised peremptory strikes against Black jurors, and … relied upon racial stereotypes to justify their strikes,” further reducing the representation of African Americans on Kansas juries. She reported that in the past 30 years, Kansas courts had issued only one published opinion overturning any conviction based on a defendant’s jury discrimination challenge.