Prosecutors on Friday filed capital murder charges against four people accused of fatally shooting a Valley Center-area husband and wife in November, including the couple’s 18-year-old adopted son.
Anthony Bluml; his biological mother, 35-year-old Kisha Schaberg; and two of Anthony’s former Valley Center High School classmates, 18-year-olds Andrew Ellington and Braden Smith, each face the amended murder charge in the killings of Anthony’s adoptive parents, Roger and Melissa Bluml.
The four originally were charged on Nov. 25 with first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder in connection with the Nov. 15 shootings. The new charges come less than two weeks after 48-year-old Roger Bluml, who had been hospitalized with a gunshot wound to his head, succumbed to his injuries Dec. 21.
His wife, a 53-year-old bank vice president, died Nov. 16 at a Wichita hospital. The couple was found shot outside of their rural Sedgwick County home the night before after an apparent robbery.
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Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett on Friday acknowledged that the case is now death-penalty eligible. Asked whether prosecutors plan to seek the death sentence, he said a decision would be made at a later date.
In Kansas, 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.” A single complaint filed in Sedgwick County District Court on Friday accuses the four defendants of killing the Blumls “unlawfully, intentionally, and with premeditation” in the same or connected acts.
Each defendant faces two counts of premeditated, intentional first-degree murder as an alternative to capital murder.
The complaint also sets forth aggravating circumstances that could influence the sentencing phase of the case, if any of the suspects are convicted:
The defendant or defendants killed or created “great risk of death” to more than one person
The crime was committed “for the purpose of receiving money” or other valuables
The defendant or defendants “authorized or employed another person to commit the crime”
The crime was committed “in an especially heinous, atrocious or cruel manner.”
In court Friday, each defendant listened silently as Sedgwick County District Court Judge Warren Wilbert read the modified charges. Each wore a green jail jumpsuit and appeared via a video link from the Sedgwick County Jail, where they have remained in custody since their Nov. 20 arrest.
Ellington wore glasses, a neatly-trimmed full beard and hair noticeably shorter than he had when originally charged in November.
Smith also sported a noticeable change in appearance, wearing well-groomed facial hair and a cropped hairstyle.
None spoke, except to acknowledge his or her identify and to thank the judge after being advised of the charges.
Bennett, the district attorney, stood at the back of the courtroom as the hearings progressed. Several attorneys were present.
The four charged are due back in court on Jan. 16 for preliminary hearings, where a judge will hear testimony to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to take the case to trial. Bennett called Jan. 16 “a control date” that would likely be pushed back “given the size and scope of the situation.” He added that he expected each suspect to be tried separately.
Wilbert, the judge, told the defendants he expected their preliminary hearings to be delayed.
Also on Friday, Wilbert increased bond for each defendant to $2 million because, he said in court, “this is now a capital murder case.”
Schaberg originally had been held in lieu of $1 million. Bonds for Anthony Bluml, Ellington and Smith were initially set at $500,000.
In addition to the murder charge, Anthony Bluml, Schaberg, Ellington and Smith also face identical counts of aggravated robbery, burglary and theft in the case. The aggravated robbery charges accuse the four of forcefully taking a purse from Melissa Bluml and of taking a cellphone and keys from her husband, according to the complaint filed in court.
The burglary count says the defendants unlawfully entered the couple’s home at 5932 E. 109th in Valley Center “with the intent to commit a theft.”
The theft charge accuses each of obtaining coins and other miscellaneous property, worth less than $1,000.
The complaint includes a list of about 270 state witnesses.
According to Schaberg’s girlfriend, Anthony Bluml had reunited with Schaberg – his biological mother – in California around midsummer after the pair had contact over social media. Smith, who lives in Park City, had gone along to California with Anthony Bluml.
The trio drove from San Diego to the Wichita area, Schaberg’s girlfriend has told The Eagle, about two weeks before the shootings.