The information on this page provides a brief overview of capital clemency in Kansas and is not intended to serve as the basis for a capital clemency petition or campaign. For additional information, please see the full Kansas Clemency Memo prepared by the ABA Capital Clemency Resource Initiative:
Article I, section 7 of the Kansas Constitution vests the power to pardon with the governor. By statute, the governor is empowered to pardon or commute the sentence of “any person convicted of a crime” in any Kansas court. The same statute establishes a Prisoner Review Board (“Board”) to handle the initiation, processing, and review of clemency applications.
The Decision Maker(s)
While the clemency power in Kansas lies exclusively with the governor, he or she may not grant or deny clemency until either: a) receiving the Board’s recommendation or b) statutory notice requirements have been fulfilled and 120 days have passed since the petition’s referral to the Board. In a capital case, the governor is only empowered to reduce a petitioner’s sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The governor may also grant a reprieve of execution for a limited time.
According to the relevant statute, the Board generally receives the application for clemency, conducts the initial review of the case, and compiles a report; the Board also has the power to adopt rules and regulations regarding the clemency application process.
How Petitions are Brought
The Board handles, processes, and reviews all initial clemency petitions; the processes are the same for both capital and non-capital cases. However, it is worth noting that because Kansas has not implemented the death penalty in recent years, the capital clemency process has not actually been tried. These sections reflect the processes in place for both capital and non-capital clemency.
The Board has published instructions for executive clemency on its website. These instructions are summarized below. Each of the documents required for a clemency application can be found within the Board’s policy 23-101a.
To initiate the clemency review process by the Board, petitioners must first send a copy of the Notice of Clemency Application-Sentencing Form to the Judge, Prosecuting Attorney, Sheriff, and Police Chief located in the county of the petitioner’s conviction. This document details the petitioner’s sentencing record as well as the petitioner’s arguments for clemency.
Next, the petitioner must notify the public in the county of conviction by sending two copies of the Request for Publication Form to the official county newspaper within the county of conviction. Petitioners are responsible for enclosing the costs of publication with the form, unless he or she submits a waiver of fees. The Request for Publication Form must include the petitioner’s name, date of sentencing, and county of conviction. Additionally, the publication has to submit an “affidavit of publication” to the Board after publishing the notice of the petitioner’s clemency application.
If the petitioner retains or seeks an appointed attorney in clemency proceedings, the attorney must complete and file an Attorney Affidavit with the Board. The Attorney Affidavit details the extent of the attorney’s representation, including when his or her representation ends and who is paying his or her fees.
The last document to complete the process is the formal Application for Clemency (“Application”). Clemency petitions do not have to be written solely by the petitioner; the petitioner may receive assistance from prison staff in preparing the Application. The Application should state the explicit reasons for seeking clemency, including information about the petitioner’s conduct or achievements since conviction.
Once all of these documents are completed, the petitioner should send the completed documents—Notice of Clemency Application-Sentencing Form; Request for Publication Form; Application for Clemency; and, if applicable, and the Attorney Affidavit—to the Board and the petitioner’s Department of Corrections “facility master file.”
The Department of Corrections maintains a public record of the number of clemency petitions (primarily non-capital) received by the Board and the number of favorable recommendations given.
There is no statutory requirement in Kansas that a hearing take place after a capital clemency petition has been submitted. However, the Board may conduct a hearing as part of its information-gathering function. As there has not been a prisoner put to death in Kansas since 1965, however, there is no recent information available about what the Board typically does or does not do with regards to holding a hearing on a capital clemency petition.
Responding to a Petition
The Board is responsible for ensuring that the petitioner’s trial judge, prosecuting attorney, and known victims are notified once a clemency petition has been submitted. The Board does so by requiring the petitioner to follow the clemency application process detailed in section (d) of this memorandum. The petitioner is notified via a letter when the governor has made a decision.
The governor is required to report to the legislature on the pardon petitions granted in the past year along with the offense for which an individual has been pardoned, but the statute does not require the governor to report specific reasoning for the decisions. Notably, as the governor does not have the power to pardon capital prisoners, this reporting requirement would not seem to apply to decision making in capital cases.
Current Clemency Decision Maker(s)
Democrat Laura Kelly was sworn in as governor of the largely Republican state in January 2019. According to reports, many Republican voters supported Kelly not because of ideology, but because of her record of leadership and transparency, and the hope that she might be able to make changes to Kansas’ aging infrastructure and lackluster economic growth. Prior to being elected governor, Kelly served four terms in the Kansas State Senate, from 2005 – 2019. According to her website, the issues she is most interested in include fully funding public schools, expanding affordable healthcare, reforming the child welfare system, and growing the Kansas economy.
As Governor, Kelly has not yet spoken out about the death penalty. While in the Senate, however, Kelly spoke in favor of a bill to abolish the death penalty, stating that she did not find its cost worthwhile especially since no one has been executed since capital punishment was reinstated in Kansas. In 2017, during conversations about a new prison rebuild, then-State-Senator Kelly again emphasized that Kansas spending $500,000 a year to maintain the death penalty was unwarranted.
The Prisoner Review Board
The Prisoner Review Board was created after the dissolution of the Kansas Parole Board on July 1, 2011. The three-member Board is appointed by the Secretary of Corrections, who is a gubernatorial appointee. The chairman of the board works full-time on the board, while the other two members split time between parole activities and other Kansas Department of Corrections assignments.
Johnathan Ogletree chairs the Board. Prior to his tenure on the Board, Ogletree served as a correctional counselor and director of the Shawneee County Reentry Program. Ogletree is a member of the Kansas Council for Interstate Adult Offender Committee (IAOC) and the Professional Development Committee for Association of Paroling Authorities International.
Board member Jeannie Wark began criminal justice work in 1991 as a corrections officer. Wark has served in various parole capacities and is a member of the Association of Paroling Authorities International.
Board member Mark Keating was a parole officer in Dallas, Texas, and a hearing officer for the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles before returning to Kansas. Keating was a parole officer for the Kansas Department of Corrections, the director of sex offender management, and continues to serve as the parole director of the Northern Parole Region, which has overseen the release of more than 2,500 prisoners in Northern Kansas across 10 separate offices.
Past Capital Clemency Decisions
As Kansas has not scheduled any executions since 1964, there have not been any clemency grants in the forty years since the death penalty was reinstated nationwide. Earl Wilson and Bobbie Joe Spencer were the last two Kansas death row prisoners to be granted clemency. Their sentences were commuted by Governor George in 1960, who was generally opposed to the death penalty. There are currently only 10 people on death row in Kansas.