If capital murder charges are filed against four defendants in a Valley Center-area shooting now that a second person has died, it would be the most people to potentially face the death penalty in any case in Kansas, an official said Monday.
That’s according to Ron Evans, chief attorney with the state’s Death Penalty Defense Unit. Based on his memory and records, Evans said, “There’s been (three) defendants but never four” in one case since the death penalty law was enacted in 1994. Evans has been with the unit for 15 years and is representing one of the defendants in the shooting.
Prosecutors are waiting on autopsy findings to determine whether to file amended charges in the shooting last month of a couple from the Valley Center area.
District Attorney Marc Bennett said Monday that prosecutors are waiting for an autopsy to be completed on Roger Bluml, who died Saturday after being critically injured in the shooting. Bennett met with sheriff’s detectives Monday morning.
Roger Bluml, 48, and his wife, Melissa, were shot outside their home the night of Nov. 15. According to charges, Roger Bluml was shot in the head. Melissa Bluml, a 53-year-old bank vice president, died the day after the shooting. The couple were well-liked and respected in their community and active in school activities with their two teenage sons.
Jailed in the case are the Blumls’ 18-year-old adopted son, Anthony Bluml; his biological mother, 35-year-old Kisha Schaberg of San Diego; and two of Anthony’s former classmates, Andrew Ellington and Braden Smith, both 18 and of Park City.
Anthony Bluml, who had been a top wrestler before graduating from Valley Center High School, and Schaberg had reunited before the shooting. Those two and Smith had traveled from California to Kansas about two weeks before the shooting, Schaberg’s girlfriend in San Diego told The Eagle.
Evans is representing Schaberg.
About a month ago, prosecutors charged each of the defendants with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, aggravated robbery, burglary and theft.
Prosecutors could decide to amend the homicide charges to capital murder, potentially making the case death-penalty eligible. Capital murder defendants also can face life in prison without parole.
According to state law, the definition of capital murder includes the “intentional and premeditated killing of more than one person as a part of the same act or transaction.”
There was a 2008 case in Reno County in which three people were charged with capital murder in the stabbing of a fellow prisoner at Hutchinson Correctional Facility. But the charges were dismissed, said Patricia Scalia, director of the Board of Indigents’ Defense Services.
Wichita lawyer John Val Wachtel, who was one of the defense lawyers in that Reno County case, said it’s important for prosecutors not to make a quick judgment on such cases.
“I’m encouraged by the fact that people are thinking this over,” Wachtel said of the Valley Center-area shooting.
Regarding the fact there are four defendants in the case, he said, “If the death penalty is reserved for the worst of the worst, can it be that all four are the worst of the worst?”
There could be a number of reasons, he said, to wait on autopsy results, including to rule out any other possible causes of death or to determine whether the shooting was done “truly execution-style.”