The Kansas Supreme Court, citing prosecutorial misconduct, has reversed child-sex-crimes convictions of a former Inman police chief and ordered that he get a new trial.
In 2011, Michael Akins Jr. was convicted of 15 sex crimes, allegedly committed in 2009 while he was police chief of Inman, a town between McPherson and Hutchinson on K-61. The alleged victims were three girls and a boy, ages 14 and younger. Akins was sentenced to two consecutive life terms plus nearly five years.
The high court’s finding was released Friday. Among other things, the court found that the prosecutor made improper comments to the jury. For example, the court found that the prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Christine Ladner, was wrong to repeatedly refer to “grooming” of victims for future sex abuse when her comments were not based on evidence introduced at the trial. The state had argued that the prosecutor was referring to “grooming” only in its ordinary meaning, but the high court disagreed.
The Kansas Attorney General’s Office said Friday that it is reviewing the court’s decision.
Akins, who testified in his defense, denied the accusations. But the jury convicted him of eight counts of aggravated indecent liberties with a child, one count of attempted aggravated indecent liberties, one count of indecent liberties, one count of aggravated indecent solicitation of a child, three counts of indecent solicitation of a child and one count of battery.
Akins, now 42, is being held in prison out of state, according to Kansas Department of Corrections records. In the near term, Akins will remain in prison, said Dan Monnat, the Wichita attorney representing Akins in his appeal of his convictions. Monnat said Friday that he would also defend Akins in any future trial and would seek bond so his client would have a chance to go free pending trial.
The Supreme Court also found that the prosecutor improperly “expressed her personal opinion on the credibility of her own witnesses” and was wrong to “offer her personal opinion that the defendant’s testimony was untruthful.” Instead of citing specific inconsistencies in his testimony, she basically told the jury “that Akins could not be believed,” the court said.
The court added: “There was no physical evidence of Akins’ guilt, and he consistently and steadfastly maintained that he was innocent. So the jury was charged with deciding the case based on testimony of witnesses, making their credibility of paramount importance.”
In all, the court found three instances of prosecutorial misconduct. The state argued that the misconduct applied to only a small fraction of the trial, but Monnat contended that each instance of misconduct kept Akins from getting a fair trial.
“We agree with Akins that the prosecutor’s actions denied him a fair trial,” the court concluded.
In a statement Friday, Monnat said: “The court’s message to prosecutors in reversing Mr. Akins’ convictions is simple: If the state wants to send anyone to prison for life on grounds of sexual abuse, it must have the evidence to back up its accusations. Courtroom theatrics are not evidence.”