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Judge defers ruling on motion to dismiss Wichita gang member’s first-degree murder charges

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, April 29, 2013, at 7:12 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, Sep. 9, 2013, at 8:29 p.m.

A Sedgwick County judge on Monday deferred ruling on a motion to dismiss charges against a Wichita gang member who has invoked the state’s stand-your-ground law as a defense for first-degree murder.

Prosecutors said Monday’s hearing was necessitated by a Kansas Supreme Court interpretation of the stand-your-ground law that was released in March.

Before the ruling, Kansas appellate courts had not addressed the stand-your ground statute. The ruling placed the burden on prosecutors to show that a defendant did not act in self-defense.

The Kansas Legislature adopted the stand-your-ground law in 2006. The law said if a person isn’t doing anything illegal, he or she doesn’t have to retreat when attacked and can use reasonable force in self-defense.

Supporters said at the time that the law was “sound public policy that creates rebuttable presumptions that favor the law-abiding citizen over the criminal.” They also said the law was “merely a reiteration of well-founded opinion and interpretation of current statutes.” They said the law would not extend the protection to unlawful activity such as the operation of a meth lab.

District Judge Ben Burgess scheduled Monday’s hearing as he tries to determine if Steven Louis was acting in self-defense on Dec. 30, 2011, when he fired more than a dozen shots at rival gang members during a confrontation outside the Bai Wei restaurant at 1845 S. Rock Road.

One of the shots fired by members of the rival gang struck Kao Saechao, 19, a friend of Louis’ who later died of his injuries. Louis was charged with murder after prosecutors determined that he committed a felony that resulted in a death.

Prosecutors contend that Louis was engaging in illegal activity on the night of the shooting by carrying a firearm. Louis testified at an earlier hearing that he had completed a concealed-carry class but did not obtain a permit.

Louis also testified at that hearing that the first shot that night came from a member of the rival gang. He said he returned fire to defend himself and those around him.

During Monday’s hearing, two witnesses who were at the restaurant on the night of the shooting testified, but neither could say which side fired first. Defense lawyer Val Wachtel argued that the charge should be dismissed if prosecutors can’t prove that his client fired the first shot.

“The issue in this case is who shot first,” he said. “That’s the only reason we are here today.”

Prosecutor Aaron Breitenbach described the confrontation as “mutual combat,” where neither side could claim to be acting in self-defense.

“Our position is still that he shot first,” he said of Louis’ involvement.

“Whether he was carrying around a gun or went to his car to get his gun, his actions were not those of someone acting in self-defense,” he said.

Burgess said he would issue a ruling on the case in a week or two. Louis is scheduled to stand trial June 10.

Reach Hurst Laviana at 316-268-6499 or hlaviana@wichitaeagle.com.

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