As defense stands down, DA ramps up
03/27/2012 11:18 AM
03/27/2012 11:18 AM
The day after Dennis Rader declared his guilt and explained his crimes, his lawyers were still perplexed about what the state had left to prove.
Rader gave police details of his crimes as the BTK serial killer shortly after his arrest Feb. 26. On Monday, he publicly confirmed those details in a graphic guilty plea.
All that's left now is his sentencing, and his lawyers said Tuesday even that is no mystery.
"The bottom line is, Dennis is going to spend the rest of his life in prison," said Steve Osburn, Rader's public defender. "We know that. He knows that. And the state knows that."
During his plea, the 60-year-old Rader said he's willing to take the Hard 40: life in prison with no possibility of parole for 40 years. The other nine counts of murder that he admitted to Monday will also bring life sentences, each taking another 15 years until he could even be eligible for parole .
But Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston said there are still answers to be provided.
"I'm sure if it was up to the defense, they would rather skip the sentencing entirely and just get an e-mail from the judge," Foulston said Tuesday. "I think all defendants would rather it just go away and quietly slither out of town and off to the penitentiary. But that's not going to happen."
Osburn, who has seen the state's evidence, said there's not much more to add to the detailed description Rader gave of his killings in his plea to Sedgwick County District Judge Greg Waller.
"I think personally hearing Mr. Rader stand up and say, 'I did it,' and give some very graphic details as to why people were selected and how he went about it — if that doesn't give closure, I certainly don't know what the state can add to that," Osburn said.
The district attorney said the laws require certain showings to a judge and include provisions for deciding restitution and allowing victims' families to tell the judge the impact the crimes have had on them.
"If we want to hear the truth about the events, we need to get them from the best source, and that wouldn't be Dennis Rader," Foulston said. "Or at least, it wouldn't be Dennis Rader's version in its entirety."
Osburn said Rader had been willing to plead guilty following his arraignment in May. But that was before his lawyers had seen the evidence against him or fully understood the case. They couldn't provide proper legal guidance.
"We had to very forcefully counsel him," Osburn said. "We told him we haven't gone over all the ramifications of entering a plea yet. You can't possibly make a knowing plea until we've done that. Give us a chance."
During that time, Rader had at least five mental health professionals analyze his psychological state. Part of that was to determine whether an insanity defense was viable: whether he understood that what he was doing was wrong and whether he was capable of assisting his lawyers, even to plead guilty.
No one will discuss specifics of those evaluations, but by June lawyers got the information they needed to determine that Rader wasn't eligible for an insanity defense and was capable of making his own decisions.
"I want to make it clear that we didn't force Dennis into this at all," Osburn said.
Rader said as much at Monday's pleading.
"The defense worked very well with me," Rader said. He also called their working relationship "a good effort." He added: "They've been very fair."
Rader's lawyers even worked out a basic declaration for him to use in making his plea. But when Judge Waller began asking questions, everyone was surprised at how much Rader revealed.
From Rader's own mouth came the words that convicted him, giving a more convincing account of his guilt than even a jury might hear.
"The state will often argue in jury selection that they have to convict a person beyond reasonable doubt," Osburn said. "But that's not all doubt. So even a jury conviction can leave some doubt. A plea of guilty leaves no doubt.
"And I don't think anybody out there is thinking this guy is not BTK. They know it's him. They know they caught him."
On Tuesday, work began to return to normal in the public defender's office.
The day after staring down cameras and fielding requests for interviews, Osburn and co-counsels Jama Mitchell and Sarah McKinnon were quietly representing clients who otherwise couldn't afford a lawyer.
Osburn stood beside several clients being sentenced for writing bad checks.
Mitchell had a preliminary hearing in an attempted rape case.
"It was good to have a case that I can sink my teeth into again — I have a client who is innocent and has a good defense," Mitchell said.
Foulston and members of her prosecution team were in demand on national television networks. By Tuesday evening, Foulston and deputy prosecutors Kevin O'Connor and Kim Parker had appeared on television with Court TV's Nancy Grace, CNN's Paula Zahn and Larry King, and MSNBC's Dan Abrams, among others.
Foulston's office was bombarded with e-mails, letters and phone calls of best wishes on Rader's guilty plea. Foulston said she received an e-mail from Fox-TV personality Greta Van Susteren, joking, "You must have scared him into a plea."
A crew from the E cable channel interviewed Foulston for a two-hour special on the BTK case. The program, scheduled for the July 17 broadcast of "True Hollywood Story — Investigates" is titled "Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer."
But there were also other cases to prosecute.
After Rader's plea, Parker spent Monday afternoon beginning the murder trial of Paul Drayton.
Drayton is charged in the May 2002 stabbing death of former elementary school custodian Paul Mayberry at his home at 14th and Erie. Drayton is pleading not guilty.
After a full day of testimony, closing arguments are scheduled for this morning.
That case will be decided by a jury.