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In the Bible Belt, Christmas Isn’t Coming to Death Row

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When it comes to the death penalty, guilt or innocence shouldn’t really matter to Christians.  

NASHVILLE — Until August, Tennessee had not put a prisoner to death in nearly a decade. Last Thursday, it performed its third execution in four months.
This was not a surprising turn of events. In each case, recourse to the courts had been exhausted. In each case Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, declined to intervene, though there were many reasons to justify intervening. Billy Ray Irick suffered from psychotic breaks that raised profound doubts about his ability to distinguish right from wrong. Edmund Zagorksi’s behavior in prison was so exemplary that even the warden pleaded for his life. David Earl Miller also suffered from mental illness and was a survivor of child abuse so horrific that he tried to kill himself when he was 6 years old.
Questions about the humanity of Tennessee’s lethal-injection protocol were so pervasive following the execution of Mr. Irick that both Mr. Zagorski and M…

Judge allows Topeka triple-slaying defendant's attorneys, untrained in capital murder defense, to withdraw

Topeka
4 defendants are charged in triple slaying in North Topeka

2 defense attorneys sought - and got - a judge's ruling on Monday allowing them to withdraw as attorneys representing 1 of 4 men charged in the killings of 3 people at a North Topeka bungalow.

The 2 were allowed to withdraw because they are not "death-certified," meaning they aren't trained to represent a client who is facing a possible death penalty if he is charged with capital murder.

Monday was the 1st time the prospect of a defendant in the case facing a death penalty in the 3-victim slaying case has popped into view in Shawnee County District Court.

Meanwhile, the 3 co-defendants will face a preliminary hearing before Shawnee County District Court Judge Nancy Parrish on Tuesday. The preliminary hearing is expected to extend into Wednesday and perhaps Thursday.

On Monday, Public Defender Stacey Donovan, who represented Joseph Aaron Krahn, 34, told District Court Judge David Debenham that she and other attorneys in her office aren't "death certified" to represent defendants charged with cases that could result in the death penalty.

Donovan told the judge she consulted with Mark Manna, head of the Kansas Death Penalty Defense Unit, and he advised her to withdraw from Krahn's case so DPDU could handle the Krahn case.

The judge granted the Krahn motion.

So far, Krahn, who told a judge he was "innocent" of 3 murder counts during his 1st court appearance, then shrugged, is charged with 3 counts of 1st-degree murder.

Chief deputy district attorney Dan Dunbar told the judge that depending on the evidence surfacing during the preliminary hearing, he might ask the judge to bind over a defendant on charges of capital murder, which carries a death penalty.

So far, no capital murder counts have been filed against the 4 defendants, Dunbar told the judge.

In November 2014, Ozawkie lawyer Dennis Hawver, who wasn't a death-certified attorney, was disbarred after the Kansas Supreme Court found that Hawver engaged in "inexplicable incompetence" in representing King Phillip Amman Reu-El in a capital murder case.

Amman Reu-El, 44, formerly was known as Phillip Cheatham. Hawver represented Amman Reu-El, who was convicted in the slayings of 2 women and severe wounding of a 3rd woman and was initially sentenced to death.

The Kansas Supreme Court overturned Amman Reu-El's convictions, he eventually made a plea in the re-trial, and he was sentenced for a capital murder conviction to a life term without possibility of parole for 25 years and a consecutive prison term of 13 years and 9 months for an attempted murder count.

In the on-going case, the other 3 defendants are Shane Andrew Mays, 19, Joseph P. Lowry, 31, and Brian Joseph Flowers, 32, who were charged with the slayings in March.

In part, Kansas law defines capital murder as the killing of more than 1 person as part of the same act.

As of Tuesday, Krahn is charged with 3 counts of 1st-degree murder, and Mays is charged with 2 counts of 1st-degree murder.

Flowers and Lowry are charged with 1 count each of 1st-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated assault, and Mays is charged with 2 counts of 1st-degree murder.

Debenham eventually will hear the preliminary hearing of Krahn. The Krahn case next will be in court on July 20 when his preliminary hearing will be scheduled.

The victims are Matthew Leavitt, 19; Nicole Fisher, 38; and Luke Davis, 20, all of Topeka. The 3 were found late on March 12 inside an airplane bungalow at 115 N.W. Grant.

Topeka police officers had been called to the house at 11:20 p.m. to check the welfare of the occupants, then found the bodies.

Few details have been released about the killings.

The Capital-Journal was the only news medium in the courtroom on Monday.

Capital murder also is defined as the killing of:

-- A law enforcement officer.

-- A child younger than 14 during a kidnapping or aggravated kidnapping when it was tied to the commission of a sex offense.

-- A victim during a kidnapping or aggravated kidnapping done to hold the victim for ransom.

-- A victim in a contract slaying.

-- A victim of an inmate or prisoner in a state or local correctional facility or jail.

-- A victim during a rape, criminal sodomy or aggravated sodomy.

Source: The Topeka Capital-Journal, July 11, 2017

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