In 13 years as a Lake County deputy prosecutor, Tom Vanes prosecuted one case that led directly to a man's execution.
Vanes worked the case of William Vandiver, the man executed in 1985 for decapitating his wife's father, Paul Komyatti Sr., in Hammond in 1983. Vanes exhaled heavily and paused before he said Wednesday that Vandiver's execution doesn't weigh on him, in part because Vandiver sped his execution by voluntarily waiving his appeals.
What bothers Vanes, now a defense attorney who has guarded clients against execution, is the patchwork system by which different county prosecutors seek the penalty. The punishment's application is "erratic," Vanes said.
"In the abstract, the best way of me putting it, I guess, would be I look at the death penalty the same way I look at the United Nations. I can understand the theoretical merit, but in practice, both are ..." Vanes said, concluding the sentence with a military acronym describing an unsalvageable situation.
Hoosiers who oppose the death penalty have few current cases to oppose. By the count of Clark County Prosecutor Steven Stewart, a death penalty advocate, 12 people will remain on death row in Indiana if Evansville triple-murderer Matthew Eric Wrinkles is lethally injected as planned early Friday morning in Michigan City. That's a small roster of death row inmates, Stewart said. Indiana has gone two years since its last executed inmate, an unusual span since the penalty was reinstated in 1977. Death sentences have declined nationally since the 1990s.
Stevens regrets the penalty's decline. He said the penalty's opponents have rammed through laws about that make the process "expensive and burdensome." Families often don't want to suffer through "20 years of appeals," Stevens said.
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"I think the amount of expenses for attorneys, investigators, experts and multiple appeals has reached the point of absurdity," Stevens said.
Stevens considers the death penalty as the only way to stop certain murderers from killing again.
Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter is a less enthusiastic supporter of the death penalty. He believes the taxpayers still want the penalty for the "worst of the worst," and Carter said he doesn't consider expense when deciding whether to seek death. Carter doesn't believe it should be easier for the state to kill a person.
"It's a very serious thing," Carter said.
Carter's office is only seeking the death penalty in one current case, the prosecution of Kevin Isom, who is charged with killing his wife and two children in Gary in 2007. Carter has said his office is considering pursuing the penalty against David Flores, the man accused of killing two sisters in Griffith in September, although a judge's gag order stopped him from talking about that case Wednesday.
Porter County Prosecutor Brian Gensel could not be reached for comment Wednesday.