Crime & Courts

High court rejects Kan. serial killer’s death penalty appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to review the death penalty case of Kansas serial killer John E. Robinson Sr., meaning his capital murder conviction and sentence will stand for now, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said in a statement Monday morning.

Robinson, 72, will now have an opportunity to pursue a second round of appeals, known in legal circles as collateral attacks. Those types of challenges – which originate in state court – include things like whether an attorney provided an effective defense and allegations of misconduct.

After they are exhausted, Robinson can file a third set of appeals – these originating in federal court – before his execution would be carried out.

Robinson – known for storing the bodies of his victims in barrels – was convicted of capital murder by a Johnson County jury in 2002 in connection with the murders of at least six women. In November, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld his death sentence during his direct appeal, prompting Robinson’s attorneys to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the ruling.

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The death sentence was the first upheld by the Kansas Supreme Court since the state reinstated capital punishment in 1994. The court later upheld Scott Cheever’s death sentence.

The last executions in Kansas, by hanging, were in 1965.

Robinson is among 10 men awaiting execution in Kansas and is the first to exhaust the first set of appeals available to him. The other cases are all still working their way through the first set of appeals.

Listed by the county and year of conviction, they are:

▪ Gary Kleypas (Crawford County, 2008): For the March 30, 1996, rape and murder of a Pittsburg State University student. The Kansas Supreme Court overturned his sentence in 2001, but another jury condemned him to death again in 2008.

▪ Jonathan and Reginald Carr (Sedgwick County, 2002): For four shooting deaths in Wichita during a crime spree in December 2000.

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▪ Sidney Gleason (Barton County, 2006): For the shooting deaths of two people. Prosecutors said Gleason and his cousin Damian Thompson worried that one of the victims would tell police about their involvement in the stabbing and robbery of a 76-year-old man.

▪ Scott Cheever (Greenwood County, 2007): For the January 2005 shooting of Sheriff Matt Samuels at a home near Virgil, where authorities also found a suspected methamphetamine lab. The Kansas Supreme Court overturned Cheever’s conviction in 2012, saying his right against self-incrimination was violated by prosecutors who used a court-ordered mental evaluation from a different trial against him. A year later, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the decision, noting that Cheever’s own expert raised the issue of whether methamphetamine use had damaged his brain. After a second look, the Kansas Supreme Court in June ruled the conviction and death sentence would stand.

▪ Justin Thurber (Cowley County, 2009): For the January 2007 abduction, sexual assault and killing of a 19-year-old Cowley College student. Her body was found in a wooded area near where her car had been sunk in a lake.

▪ James Kraig Kahler (Osage County, 2011): For the November 2009 murders of his estranged wife, her grandmother and his two daughters. Kahler was reportedly upset that his wife had allegedly taken a female lover and filed for divorce.

▪ Frazier Glenn Miller Jr. (Johnson County, 2015): For the April 2014 shooting deaths of three people outside Kansas City-area Jewish sites.

▪ Kyle Trevor Flack (Franklin County, 2016): For the shooting deaths of three adults and an 18-month-old child.

The Kansas Supreme Court is also considering the direct appeal of an 11th death-row inmate, Douglas Belt, who was convicted of the June 25, 2002, sexual assault and decapitation of Lucille Gallegos in Wichita. Belt died in prison in April, but his appeal remains active.

Justices heard oral arguments in his case in September and plan to issue a ruling at a later date.

Amy Renee Leiker: 316-268-6644, @amyreneeleiker

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