Editors Note: This story has been updated to add that Kevin Harrison is a professor at Wichita State University.

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — This week, an interesting case is taking place in a Wichita courtroom. Starting Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) began presenting testimony that it says will prove that the Kansas death penalty law is racially biased and unconstitutional.

The ACLU has taken on the case of a Wichita man charged with capital murder. The defendant, Kyle Young, is charged in the shooting deaths of George Kirksey, 27, and Alicia Roman, 22, at the Hotel at WaterWalk, 700 S. Main, on Jan. 2, 2020. Young’s trial has been delayed while the ACLU argues against capital punishment in Kansas.

The hearing started Monday morning in the 18th Judicial District Chief Judge Jeffrey Goering’s courtroom.

Cassy Stubbs, Director of the Capital Punishment Project for the ACLU, began the opening statements, listing witnesses who will be called and the information they will provide.

“Nothing we say and do here is intended to bring pain or suffering to the people who knew and loved Alicia Roman and George Kirksey,” she said.

Stubbs said the witnesses would show that the death qualification process of choosing a jury leads to racially biased juries that are more prone to convict defendants.

“At the end of this hearing, we will ask the court to strike death qualification and strike the death penalty,” she said.

In his opening statement, District Attorney Marc Bennett repeated his objections to the hearing.

“This is premature, and I’ll renew my objections for the record and ask for a running objection to the proceedings here,” Bennett said. “Because until or unless we get through a trial and see how it goes and see what sort of objections are made and see what sort of panel is impaneled, and see how the law of Kansas is actually implemented in this particular case, this is all theoretical.”

The judge noted the objection.

The ACLU called its first witness, Shawn Alexander, professor of African American Studies at the University of Kansas. He spent the morning discussing the history of race relations in America and, more specifically, Kansas. He spoke of violence against Blacks over the years and laws that attempted and failed to eliminate racism.

“Race is a factor that we must understand and pay attention to throughout the criminal justice system as well as throughout society,” Alexander testified.

In the afternoon, the ACLU called Kevin Harrison to the stand. Harrison is an assistant professor and Director of Diversity at Wichita State University and an entrepreneur, activist, youth mentor, and musician. He testified about having a terrible relationship with the Wichita Police Department in his 20s and 30s. He is now in his 50s.

Harrison said he was frequently pulled over because his brother had a criminal history. He said officers would threaten him and his family. He said a former Wichita Police Department (WPD) officer later apologized for treating him differently. The officer told him that when he became a WPD officer, that culture changed him. Harrison now serves on the Police Review Board.

The next witness was Professor Mona Lynch, University of California, Irvine. She has researched death qualification juries. In 2021, she studied Sedgwick County’s ability to produce an unbiased death qualification jury. Surveyors questioned 600 residents about their opinions on the death penalty.

Lynch said the research shows that Blacks are more likely to be excluded from capital murder juries than whites. She also said the death qualification process tends to leave people on the jury who are more supportive of the death penalty than the general jury pool.

She said there are risks associated with a whiter jury that is more likely to choose the death penalty.

“Those risks include a jury more receptive to death, less, more hostile to mitigation,” Lynch said. “Certainly, it’s particularly a risk for African-American, Black defendants when it shifts to a whiter jury.”

Click here to read Lynch’s final report from February 2022 and to see the numbers she mentioned in court on Monday.

In his cross-examination of Lynch, Bennett said that the pool of people who answer surveys is a narrow niche of people. Lynch agreed but said the methodology is the industry standard.

The ACLU will continue calling witnesses at 9:30 Tuesday morning.