The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday upheld the capital murder conviction of Israel Mireles, who was convicted of killing 18-year-old Butler Community College student Emily Sander in 2007 before dumping her body 50 miles away in Woodson County.
Mireles, 29, was sentenced to life without parole for capital murder and 203 months for rape after a four-day trial in Butler County District Court in February 2010. He is a high- to medium-security inmate at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court rejected defense claims that photos introduced at Mireles’ trial were unduly prejudicial and that a prosecutor improperly offered an opinion of Mireles’ guilt during his closing argument.
Mireles’ attorney also argued that Butler County District Judge David Ricke made an error in not specifically instructing jurors that they could conclude the murder wasn’t premeditated and convict Mireles of the lesser crime of felony murder, or a killing during the commission of a felony.
Capital appellate defender Debra Wilson argued that jurors could have concluded that Mireles was too intoxicated to have intended to kill the young woman.
In the Supreme Court’s opinion, Justice Eric Rosen conceded that such an instruction would have been “appropriate” but added that the legal standard on appeal is whether, even with the extra instruction, the jury would have reached the same result. Prosecutors presented evidence that Sander was sodomized, stabbed multiple times and strangled with a phone cord, and the high court said jurors determined from those facts that her killing was premeditated.
“Accordingly, we conclude that even if the jury would have received an instruction on felony murder, the jury would have still convicted Mireles of capital murder,” Rosen wrote.
Evidence at the trial showed that Mireles killed Sander in an El Dorado motel room where he was staying on Nov. 24, 2007. Her partially clothed body was found five days later near an embankment on U.S. 54 about 50 miles east of El Dorado. Prosecutors said a knife with Sanders’ blood was later recovered from a trash bin at the Baxter Springs home of Mireles’ girlfriend.
Mireles fled to Mexico after the killing, and an extradition agreement prevented prosecutors from seeking the death penalty. In Kansas, the only other sentence for capital murder is life without parole.
Contributing: Associated Press