To Edward Runyon, Keith Hawkins has shown himself to be a monster – a sex offender roaming below the radar long enough to strangle or stab Runyon’s daughter and granddaughter.
Runyon says the legal system failed his loved ones because it kept Hawkins’ status as a sex offender from public disclosure, and it didn’t hold him fully accountable for failing to register his address.
A Wichita legislator agrees and will push for changes in the state law.
On Aug. 8, within hours of the killings, Harvey County prosecutors charged Hawkins with capital murder, which can be punishable by death.
The charge – based on multiple killings as part of the same crime – came after 24-year-old Alyssa Runyon was found in one bedroom of her Newton duplex, apparently strangled. The woman’s 4-year-old daughter, Zaylynn Paz, was found in another bedroom, with stab wounds.
Authorities say they arrested Hawkins in Texas after he drove Runyon’s Dodge Avenger there. He’s now in jail with bond set at $2.5 million.
Alyssa Runyon worked at a glass plant and lived on a quiet cul de sac in Newton. Hawkins, 19, was visiting but not necessarily staying at her duplex, said Harvey County Attorney David Yoder. He described Hawkins as homeless and bouncing around Newton.
To Edward Runyon, a 43-year-old Wichita bail bondsman, the system designed to raise awareness of sex offenders – to do what it can to protect people from them – let his daughter and granddaughter down in two ways:
1. It kept the public unaware that Hawkins was convicted of a felony sex crime against a child when he was a juvenile. A judge decided not to place him on the public registry.
2. It didn’t act aggressively enough after Hawkins failed to register as a sex offender upon moving to Harvey County in April.
“I feel like the public should have known he was out and about,” Runyon said. Because his daughter didn’t know of Hawkins’ past or recent trouble with the law, “this put her at risk, ultimately sealed her fate,” he said. “Somebody has got to be held accountable for where these people are at all times.
“I just hope that people that have the power to change this are listening,” Runyon said Tuesday, the night before he attended the funeral for his daughter and granddaughter.
Their ashes will be buried at a cemetery, next to water – “which is where Alyssa and Zaylynn loved to be,” Runyon said. “Alyssa loved to fish, and Zaylynn loved the water.”
One lawmaker agrees with Runyon.
“It sounds to me like the system failed,” said state Rep. John Whitmer, R-Wichita, vice chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and a member of the House Corrections Committee.
Both of Runyon’s concerns are “a relatively easy fix,” Whitmer said, adding that he would push for legislation to address it. Part of the solution would be to increase the penalty for failure to register, Whitmer said.
Yoder, whose office brought the capital murder charge, said he views it this way: “There wasn’t anything in the nature of this case that said the public was in immediate danger of a horrible crime like this. You can’t go back and look at what ifs.”
Hawkins was facing a felony charge before the killings for failing to register as a sex offender.
Yoder said Wednesday that his office had started the process to order a warrant in the failure-to-register case but hadn’t completed the warrant because of a backlog of cases and staffing issues.
Even if a warrant had been filed, Yoder said, he can’t speculate on whether Hawkins would have been arrested before the killings in the failure-to-register case. “Near as we can tell, he didn’t have any regular address,” Yoder said.
However, Hawkins had been in jail for a traffic ticket for a few days about five weeks before the killings.
The Newton double homicide marks the second time in the past two months that a registered sex offender in the Wichita area has been charged with a major violent crime.
In June, 23-year-old parolee and registered sex offender Corbin Breitenbach was charged with attempted capital murder. Prosecutors allege that Breitenbach went into a west Wichita apartment and strangled and sexually assaulted a 7-year-old girl. Under his parole rules, Breitenbach wasn’t supposed to be spending the night at the complex where the attack occurred. He was at his girlfriend’s apartment just across the courtyard from where the girl was staying. He was required to be at his approved home address listed on the sex-offender registry, 21 miles away from the apartments.
Unlike Hawkins, Breitenbach’s previous sex crime and identifying information were listed on the registry that the public can see.
Why Hawkins wasn’t on registry
Hawkins was found guilty of aggravated indecent liberties with a 5-year-old girl in McPherson County when he was 12. According to the criminal complaint filed in the case, Hawkins was charged with rape and aggravated indecent liberties with the 5-year-old and aggravated indecent solicitation of another child, age 7. He was convicted of only the aggravated liberties charge involving the 5-year-old and was sentenced to one year of probation in October 2011.
But he was not on the sex offender registry that the public can see. That concerns Runyon.
Hawkins was listed only on the part of the registry seen by law enforcement because judges have discretion on whether juvenile offenders are placed on the public list, according to a spokeswoman for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, which maintains a statewide registry of offenders.
Part of the legislative solution would be to remove judges’ discretion in deciding which juveniles to list, said Whitmer, the lawmaker. If a juvenile commits a serious sexual crime against a child, the juvenile should be on the public registry, Whitmer said. He said he considers aggravated indecent liberties to be among the more serious crimes.
Aggravated indecent liberties with a child is generally defined as lewd fondling or touching.
The idea of a registry is that people can punch in a name and or an address online and see whether someone is an offender and whether offenders live near them. The registry includes close-up photos of offenders, basic information about their crimes and the age and sex of their victims, the offenders’ full names, their addresses and descriptions of their vehicles, scars and tattoos. The more aware people are, the safer they can be, the thinking goes.
Part of the concern, as former Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton said in a 2010 article in The Kansan, is, “A lot of these guys reoffend.”
The counter argument is that being identified as a sex offender is like wearing a scarlet letter, and that when the offenders are juveniles, they deserve not to be publicly branded.
But if his daughter had known of Hawkins’ crime against a child, she would have “never let him in in the first place,” Runyon said. “He would have never been invited over there. She was totally against people like that.” She was a protective mother, with a 4-year-old daughter in her home.
Authorities have not stated a motive for the killings. Depending on what autopsies might find, there could be more charges, Yoder said.
Hawkins’ crime against a child shouldn’t have been sealed from the public, Runyon said.
As a bondsman who helps people get out of jail, Runyon has always had a policy of not issuing bonds to anyone accused of a crime against a child. “I don’t want to take the chance of letting (such a person) out of jail. Those are the things I will not do.”
His second concern
Runyon’s second concern deals with the fact that since April, Hawkins was in trouble with Harvey County authorities for failing to register his address and other information, including his workplace.
Runyon contends that the killings could have been prevented if Hawkins had been held more accountable for not registering with authorities.
Reporting by the Eagle found that:
▪ Starting almost four months before the killings, Hawkins had not been complying with the requirement to register as a sex offender.
▪ A month and a half before the deaths, prosecutors charged him with a felony for failing to register.
▪ Three weeks before the killings, he failed to appear in court to face the charge.
▪ Despite that sequence of events, no warrant was issued for him. So he couldn’t have been arrested on the spot for that charge if an officer had stopped him on the street before the killings.
Yoder said Wednesday that he mistakenly said that a warrant had been issued for Hawkins in the failure-to-register case. Yoder said he has since learned that his office had started the process to order a warrant but hadn’t completed it because of a backlog of cases and staffing issues.
The system should put more of a priority on making sure that sex offenders are complying, Runyon said.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, the County Attorney’s Office and court records, this is how the system’s interaction with Hawkins played out:
In April, the sheriff’s investigator assigned to registered-offender cases sent a report about Hawkins’ noncompliance to the County Attorney’s Office.
On June 22, prosecutors filed a felony charge against Hawkins for failing to register as a sex offender with authorities after moving to Harvey County. The charge says that by around April 17, Hawkins had failed to register. A summons was issued for him to appear in court on July 18.
When he didn’t appear in court on July 18, a judge notified the prosecutors’ office that it could file another summons or a warrant.
“That’s where it stops,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Melissa Flavin said of the chain of events.
No warrant was issued, Flavin said. At any given time, the Harvey County Sheriff’s Office is handling more than 1,000 warrants.
Without a warrant, if an officer had stopped Hawkins, the officer wouldn’t have known Hawkins was facing the charge, Flavin said.
If there had been a warrant, Hawkins could have been arrested.
Arrest in city case
Although no warrant had been issued in the felony failure-to-register case in Harvey County District Court, he was arrested for failing to appear in Newton Municipal Court for a speeding ticket.
Under that municipal warrant, Hawkins spent a few days in jail in late June, about five weeks before the killings.
By that time, he had already been charged with felony failure to register as a sex offender in District Court.
But the Municipal Court and District Court are two different court systems.
He appeared before the municipal judge and was released on a $1,000 personal recognizance bond on June 29, Municipal Court Administrator Greg Nickel said.
The municipal judge required Hawkins to appear in court weekly through July to review his progress in paying the fine, originally $155 including court costs. After his arrest, Hawkins did come to court four different times as required, records show.
His next court date was Aug. 10. But by that time he was arrested in the killings.
Before the killings, Runyon said, his daughter had never mentioned Hawkins by name. Runyon’s understanding is that his daughter met Hawkins through a friend. And her philosophy was that a friend of a friend “must be a friend of mine,” he said.
His daughter wouldn’t have known of Hawkins’ sex offender status unless he told her, “because it wasn’t public.”