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Kansas Court upholds 1st death sentence in 30 years

The Associated Press

Kansas City, Mo. — Kansas’ highest court on Friday upheld the death sentence of the first prisoner condemned in the state in more than three decades.

The Kansas Supreme Court let stand Gary Kleypas’ death sentence in the 1996 rape and stabbing death of 20-year-old Pittsburg State University student Carrie Williams. The Topeka-based high court, in its 166-page ruling, did throw out Kleypas’ conviction of attempted rape and ordered him resentenced for aggravated burglary.

“Considering the errors we have found singularly and cumulatively, we hold that Kleypas’ sentence of death was not imposed under the influence of passion, prejudice, or any other arbitrary factor,” Justice Marla Luckert wrote for the court’s majority.

Justice Lee Johnson dissented, reiterating his view that the death penalty is unconstitutionally cruel or unusual punishment.

“Given my view that the death penalty is categorically unconstitutional for every person convicted of murder in this state, I see no reason for a detailed discussion of all the other holdings by the majority with which I disagree,” Johnson wrote.

Kleypas, 61, was the first person condemned in Kansas after it reinstated the death penalty in 1994. Kansas hasn’t executed anyone in more than 50 years, although 10 men are on the state’s death row.

Five state justices, including Luckert, are seeking retention Nov. 8 on the seven-judge panel, and the court’s handling of death sentences has drawn frequent ire. Before upholding a death sentence in July in a 2005 shooting that killed a sheriff, the court had only once let stand such a punishment under the state’s 22-year-old capital punishment law

The Kansas Supreme Court had overturned Kleypas’ death sentence in 2001, but a jury restored it in 2008. At the time of Williams’ death, Kleypas was on parole from a 1977 Missouri murder conviction for which he served 15 years in prison.

Kleypas’ attorneys had argued, among other things, in the latest appeal that jurors who condemned him during the 2008 resentencing hearing should have been removed from the case after seeing the victim’s father lunge at Kleypas in court.

“When this happens, reasonable judges grant mistrials. That kind of put the thumb on the scale, and they pushed through,” attorney Meryl Carver-Allmond told the Supreme Court in arguing the latest appeal last December. He acknowledged that Kleypas’ culpability for Williams’ death is undeniable.

The court sided with the state’s insistence that the judge’s response to the would-be courtroom attack was “reasonable and rational,” given that jurors who witnessed it were properly vetted by the judge about whether they could be impartial. Luckert wrote that the judge properly “admonished the jury to disregard the altercation — to treat it as if it never happened.”