Crime & Courts

Governor's rewards seek tips in open crime cases

Gov. Mark Parkinson last week offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a suspect in a 2001 unsolved murder in Ford County.

It marked the third time Parkinson has offered such a reward, state records show. His predecessor, Kathleen Sebelius, offered six such rewards.

To date, none have been collected.

Those familiar with the governor's reward system say they typically are offered only in high-profile cases that have hit dead ends. A state law sets the reward at $5,000.

Rachel Reeves, a spokeswoman for Parkinson, said the last governor's reward to be collected was offered by then-Gov. Bill Graves in 2000. Sebelius, who was in office when the case was solved in 2003, authorized the $5,000 payment to a key witness in the 1999 murder of a rural Riley County woman.

A review of recent governor's rewards show that all

were offered in cases that generated widespread interest, at least in the areas where they occurred. The cases include the Sept. 4, 2002, murder of two women at the Dolly Madison Bakery outlet in Great Bend.

In the latest case, detectives are seeking leads in the slaying of Jesus Aaron Lerma, whose body was found in a rural Ford County field on July 31, 2001.

An autopsy found that Lerma died from a single gunshot to the chest. No vehicles or weapons were found near the body, the reward notice said, and the victim's vehicle was found abandoned on a Dodge City street. Finger and palm prints found in the vehicle have not been matched to anyone.

Kansas Bureau of Investigation associate director Wylie Kerr said governor's rewards typically are offered only in cases where all potential leads have been exhausted.

"If it appears that everything has been done and there's still no resolution to the case, then we will suggest to the Governor's Office that a reward be issued," he said.

"It's basically just a tool — kind of a last-resort tool. Occasionally it does, in fact, spur some new interest in a case. There have been times when it has led to a resolution."

That happened in 2003, when the state paid a $5,000 reward to a key witness who helped solve a Riley County case.

Kerr said he was not the lead investigator on the case, but he recalls it bogging down before the governor's reward was offered.

Riley County police said at the time that Opal Trumpp, 63, a longtime employee of the Leonardville State Bank, was shot to death in the basement of her rural Leonardville home on Dec. 15, 1999.

Her husband found her body after he returned home from his early morning school bus route.

Jerry Gavin of Manhattan was eventually charged with the crime. Investigators said he murdered Trumpp after trying unsuccessfully to force her to take him to her bank and open it.

Gavin, who was convicted of first-degree murder, is serving a life sentence at the El Dorado Correctional Facility.