The sex offender charged with capital murder in the deaths of a Newton woman and her 4-year-old daughter was released from custody and supervision early, court records show.
The slain woman’s father contends that the defendant, Keith Hawkins, didn’t spend enough time in custody.
On Aug. 8, authorities arrested Hawkins hours after the killings of Alyssa Runyon, 24, and her daughter, Zaylynn Paz.
Hawkins, now 19, was sentenced when he was 14 for aggravated indecent liberties with a 5-year-old girl in McPherson County. He was 12 at the time of the crime. It put him on the sex offender registry seen only by law enforcement.
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In the few years after his conviction, his sentence was increased because he broke supervision rules and was convicted of new crimes, court records released this week show.
The records show he incurred about 24 probation violations and at least six new convictions.
At one point, Hawkins was sentenced to a juvenile correctional facility until Aug. 1, 2017. He would have been released about a week before the Newton killings. After his release, he would have been under six months of intensive supervision.
But in February 2016, his attorney, JoAn Lindfors, asked that Hawkins be released from the correctional facility a year early, on Aug. 1, 2016, a court document says.
In August 2016, McPherson County District Judge Steve Hilgers reduced the sentence, releasing Hawkins from Larned Juvenile Correctional Facility because it was “not in the best interests of the juvenile offender,” a court document says.
The judge also ordered a year of supervision after Hawkins’ release. That would have kept him under supervision until Aug. 1, 2017.
But Hilgers ended that supervision on Feb. 22, finding that Hawkins had met requirements and “should be discharged from custody/probation.”
Neither the judge nor the attorney responded to requests for comment.
On his own
After the shortened sentence and supervision, Hawkins was on his own for about six months before he was charged with capital murder, which can be punishable by death.
During those six months, records show, he drifted around Newton. He had been unemployed the past four months. About five weeks before the killings, he was arrested on a traffic warrant and was released from jail after three to four days.
A week before he left the jail in the traffic case, he was charged with a felony for failure to register as a sex offender. But no warrant was issued for him because of staffing limits and a backlog of cases, said Harvey County Attorney David Yoder. A warrant could have resulted in his arrest on the felony charge.
On Aug. 8, the bodies of Runyon and her daughter were found in bedrooms of their Newton duplex. Runyon appeared to have been strangled; her daughter, Zaylynn, had stab wounds. Authorities said that Hawkins had been at Runyon’s home; he was arrested hours after the killings after taking Runyon’s car to Texas.
Her father, Edward Runyon, said his understanding is that his daughter met Hawkins through a friend of a friend.
If Hawkins had been released later and with longer supervision, would he have made the social connections that would have led him to Alyssa Runyon?
“Probably not,” Edward Runyon said.
“I personally don’t think he spent enough time in lock-up,” Edward Runyon said when told of the timeline ending in Hawkins’ release from custody and supervision. “I just think there should be harsher penalties for juvenile offenders, especially when it is a sex crime.
“Somewhere, somebody dropped the ball and didn’t give him harsh enough penalties” after he kept breaking the rules and getting convicted of new crimes, he said.
Hawkins got the message that he could get away with getting into trouble, Edward Runyon said.
Origins of case
On Monday, The Eagle received more than 50 pages of court documents in Hawkins’ juvenile case after requesting them from McPherson County District Court.
The documents show in detail how the court system dealt with Hawkins after he was sentenced when he had just turned 14, for the sex crime against the 5-year-old.
The court released a document listing charges that Hawkins originally faced in the case in June 2010. The charges alleged that in November 2009, when he was 12, he raped the 5-year-old girl and also had aggravated indecent liberties with her. Aggravated indecent liberties is generally defined as lewd fondling. A third charge alleged aggravated indecent solicitation of a 7-year-old.
About three-quarters of one page of a document – containing the factual basis of the sex-crime case against Hawkins – was redacted. So the specific nature of the crime against the 5-year-old could not be read.
Under an August 2011 plea agreement, Hawkins was convicted only of aggravated indecent liberties with the 5-year-old. In October 2011, a judge sentenced him to one year of probation.
The prosecutor agreed to a recommendation that his sex offender status be registered only with law enforcement – not the public.
Edward Runyon said last week that his daughter wouldn’t have allowed Hawkins in her home if she had known he was a sex offender.
Hawkins wasn’t on the sex offender registry seen by the public because judges have discretion on whether juvenile offenders are listed.
Within a few months of his sentencing in 2011, Hawkins was violating conditions of his probation by being suspended from school and being “unsuccessfully discharged” from a sex offender treatment program.
A prosecutor sought to revoke his probation. After a few more months, in June 2012, the prosecutor withdrew the motion.
Then more trouble: He was tardy to classes at Newton High School in the fall of 2013, ran away from home and spent the night at his 15-year-old girlfriend’s, admitted to drinking alcohol, took a .22-caliber rifle from his mother’s room and kept it, broke curfew, was listed as a burglary suspect and didn’t notify his probation officer within 24 hours, among other violations.
In December 2013, a judge found that he violated conditions of probation but postponed sanctions to see how he did in school.
In January 2014, the court put him in the custody of the Juvenile Justice Authority commissioner.
By 2014, his probation had been extended twice, by a year each time. And in May 2014, a prosecutor sought to have him confined to a juvenile correctional facility for two years.
The prosecutor cited more violations: On Dec. 30, Hawkins was arrested for shoplifting at a Newton WalMart. Among the items he allegedly tried to steal: a lighter, a box of sleep aids and condoms.
He admitted to smoking marijuana and K2 – known as “synthetic marijuana,” with potentially dangerous side effects – and refused to attend part of his sex offender treatment program.
By March 2014, he was skipping classes at Wichita North High School.
In April 2014, he pleaded no contest in Harvey County District Court to charges of burglary, theft and attempted theft.
In May 2014, his supervision officer was notified that he was not attending school, was taking drugs and was using razors to cut his wrists.
That May, a court document says, he qualified as “violent offender II,” meaning he could be confined to a juvenile correctional facility for at least two years and until he reached 22.5 years old. He would also be subject to “aftercare” of six months.
Yet more trouble
Things got worse.
Hawkins left a youth facility in Topeka without permission in October 2014. He was 17. He was arrested the same day in Nemaha County and returned by Seneca police.
He was charged in Nemaha County District Court with burglary, felony theft, misdemeanor theft, felony fleeing or eluding a police officer and interference with law enforcement. In December 2014, he pleaded no contest to felony theft and two counts of misdemeanor theft.
In June 2015, he failed to appear at a court hearing. He ran away after going to his job at Sonic in Topeka and was accused of theft from his workplace.
The next month, he was picked up as a runaway in Colorado, returned to Kansas and held at a Hutchinson facility.
In August 2015, Hilgers, the McPherson County judge, ordered that Hawkins be confined to a juvenile correctional facility for two years followed by six months of aftercare.
How he was released
On Feb. 29, 2016, his attorney, Lindfors, asked to reduce his sentence, arguing in a court document that Hawkins “has not had another conviction since 2014, which were one felony theft and two counts of misdemeanor theft, all nonperson crimes.” His attorney said that since he had been in a juvenile correctional facility, “he has taken classes and will complete his GED.”
The attorney noted that his release date was scheduled for Aug. 1, 2017, and asked that his two-year sentence be reduced by a year, “so that he can be released on August 1, 2016. He will be almost 19 years old by that date.”
So on July 27, 2016, Hilgers set aside the two-year sentence, finding that that it was “not in the best interests of the juvenile offender” and ruling that Hawkins be released from Larned Juvenile Correctional Facility on Aug. 1, 2016, and complete a year of supervision.
The court found that although Hawkins was 18, he was still subject to the Juvenile Justice Code. He would be on conditional release for a year upon being let go from a juvenile correctional facility. Hawkins planned to attend Barton Community College and live on campus, the court said.
Until Aug. 1 – about about a week before the killings – he was required to follow 24 rules for his intensive supervision program. Among the rules: submit to drug testing, not leave Harvey County or Kansas without his supervision officer’s approval, follow any curfew, submit pay stubs to verify employment, pay debts and not break any law.
Finally, in the February 2017 court order, Hilgers ended Hawkins’ custody and probation, saying he had “earned his successful discharge.”