The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday upheld the death sentence of Gary Kleypas, who raped and murdered a Pittsburg State University student at her home in 1996.
In its 166-page majority decision, the state’s highest court said it found several errors but none that warranted vacating Kleypas’ capital murder conviction or death sentence imposed for the March 1996 rape and murder of 20-year-old Carrie Williams.
The court did, however, throw out his attempted rape conviction and ordered that he be resentenced for his aggravated burglary conviction.
Writing for the court’s majority, Justice Marla Luckert said Kleypas’ death sentence “was not imposed under the influence of passion, prejudice, or any other arbitrary factor.” She is one of five state Supreme Court justices seeking retention on Nov. 8.
Justice Lee Johnson dissented, reiterating his view that the death penalty violates the Kansas Constitution’s prohibition against cruel or unusual punishment.
“Given my view that the death penalty is categorically unconstitutional for every person convicted of murder in this state, I see no reason for a detailed discussion of all the other holdings by the majority with which I disagree,” he wrote.
Kleypas, 61, was Kansas’ first death row inmate after lawmakers reinstated capital punishment in 1994. He had to be resentenced after the Kansas Supreme Court overturned his first death sentence in 2001.
Jurors handed down his second death sentence in 2008.
In his latest appeal, Kleypas’ attorneys had argued, among other things, that jurors who condemned him in 2008 should have been removed from the case after seeing Williams’ father lunge at Kleypas in court.
But the court sided with the state’s insistence that the judge’s response to the would-be courtroom attack was “reasonable and rational,” given that jurors who witnessed it were properly vetted about whether they could be impartial.
Kleypas was on parole from a 1977 murder conviction out of Missouri when he murdered Williams at her off-campus home.
“I’m encouraged the State’s position that this case was properly tried and the defendant was properly convicted and sentenced under applicable law has been affirmed,” Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said in a statement after the ruling.
Kleypas’ death sentence is the third upheld by the Kansas Supreme Court over the past year. It also affirmed death sentences for Johnson County serial killer John Robinson Jr. – known for storing his victims’ bodies in barrels – and for Scott Cheever, who fatally shot Greenwood County Sheriff Matt Samuels during a drug raid in 2005.
Cheever’s attorneys have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the ruling but it has not said whether it will hear the case.
Also on Friday, the Supreme Court upheld capital murder and aggravated arson convictions – but vacated an attempted rape conviction – of Douglas Belt, who sexually assault and decapitated Wichita housekeeper Lucille Gallegos in 2002.
Because Belt died in prison in April before his appeal could be heard, the court looked only at issues that could lead to his exoneration. The court held that the attempted rape conviction and the sentence attached to it must be thrown out because it was multiplicitous with his capital murder conviction.
No one has been executed in Kansas since 1965. Ten men currently are on death row.
Contributing: Associated Press