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A matter or morals or money? The Kansas death penalty can make for a complicated, emotional equation

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JOHNSON CO., Kan. - Mindy Corporon refuses to say the name of the man who killed her dad and 14-year-old son. “The defendant,” she calls him.

The defendant is Frazier Glenn Cross, also known as Glenn Miller.  On Nov. 10, Cross became the latest person sentenced to death in the state of Kansas-the tenth since 1994, when the state brought back its death penalty. All nine men already awaiting execution were convicted of heinous crimes and all nine are still alive, being housed in a detention center in Eldorado, Kan.

When asked if she believes in the death penalty, Corporon seems to bob from one side of the debate to the other. It’s obvious she’s struggling with her feelings about all of this.

“I was raised in a house believing in the death penalty. I think we grow up in our households and we initially believe and follow what our parents teach us, that’s how life works," Corporon said. "And then we get a little older and we form opinions and life happens to us, then we can change our opinions. But I grew up believing in the death penalty. And I would say before this happened to us I believed in the death penalty."

“If the death penalty is in place, which it is, and he gets the death penalty, I would like it to go quickly. I would like them to make it happen. So it doesn’t linger.” -- Mindy Corporon

If history is any indication of whether or not Cross will linger on death row, chances are pretty good he will. There are numerous reasons for the delays: appeals, Supreme Court challenges, debates about methods, and more.

There are a number of arguments for and against the death penalty. In Kansas, among the top questions are:

  1. cost effectiveness
  2. whether it’s a deterrent for criminals
  3. whether a certain county is more aggressive in seeking the death penalty, with racism playing a part

Is it cost effective?

A Kansas legislative committee last year looked into the cost of the death penalty. It found seeking, defending and prosecuting  a death penalty case is, in fact, very expensive.

It found:

  • Defending someone facing death costs four times as much as defending someone who is not: $395,762 vs. $98,963 
  • Trial court costs were higher: $72,530 vs. $21,554 
  • Jury trials take longer: 40 days vs. 16 days 
  • The Kansas Supreme Court estimates it spends 20 times the amount of hours on death penalty appeals than other kinds

Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe says those numbers don't add up to a complete picture.

“When you have a first-degree murder case, it doesn’t matter whether you have the death penalty or not. Whatever is the top crime in the state will be the one where you have the most litigation. So that’s played out through history. We’ve seen that here in Johnson County. And I think some who use those numbers sometimes play fast and loose with the true facts,” said Howe.

Howe said, people who question the efficacy of the death penalty should put money out of the equation. In short, it's not about money.

“It’s really about the moral issue about whether or not the death penalty should be imposed. From our standpoint there’s no right or wrong position to have. Just because we might have differences of opinion as to the death penalty doesn’t make one us right or wrong." 

NEXT: Is the death penalty a deterrent?

The Death Penalty Information Center polled 500 police chiefs in 2009 and found 57 percent said the death penalty does little to prevent violent crimes because perpetrators rarely consider consequences. The same poll found most police chiefs believe in the death penalty philosophically, but don’t think it’s an effective law enforcement tool in practice.

When asked if the death penalty is more of a deterrent or punishment, Howe says it can be both.

“But one things for sure,” he said, with a look in his eyes that is loaded with knowledge of some of the most heinous crimes, “when the death sentence is imposed, I don’t care how tough those defendants think they are, they’re concerned about it. And they’re scared. And to me, it’s nice to know that finally they feel like how their victims felt maybe at those times.”

Could a county be more aggressive or could racism play a role?

There are studies which have found certain counties are responsible for the majority of death sentences, and other studies have found certain counties convict significantly more minorities to die. For the purposes of this story, we only looked at facts in Kansas.

In the state of Kansas three men have been sentenced to death in Sedgewick County, two in Johnson County (including Cross) and one each in Crawford, Barton, Greenwood, Cowley and Osage counties.

As for the racial makeup of the men sentenced to death in Kansas, seven are white, three are black.

A personal matter

Even when the question of capital punishment hits close to home, it can be hard to know what to think or feel about the ultimate punishment.

"It’s a very personal decision and I respect people on both sides of that equation. But we just feel very strongly in the state of Kansas that the cases that do receive the death penalty deserve it based on the egregious nature of the conduct of those defendants,” Howe said.

So, where does Mindy Corporon ultimately come down? 

“I’m not against it. I’m not for it. I just don’t even want to have to ponder it too much. I know that my dad would be for it and always has been," she said.

“And I am my father’s daughter and I know if I had been killed I know my dad would say absolutely he deserves the death penalty.. Why can I not say that so easily? In terms of general terms of humanity, I hate that a life has to be taken for a life, but he took three."

Copyright 2015 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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