Knowing she would spend the rest of her life in a Kansas prison, Kisha Schaberg walked into a Sedgwick County courtroom Friday and stood before a judge, prepared to enter her no-contest plea.
Capital murder. Aggravated robbery. Aggravated robbery. Those were the counts.
She looked straight ahead.
The choice would spare her life – prosecutors agreed to vacate their death penalty request as part of the deal.
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But it also meant she’d never again live outside of prison walls.
“Here in a few minutes,” the judge said, “I’m going to accept your no-contest plea. Are you sure that’s what you want to do?”
“Yes,” she said.
Later that day, her biological son, Anthony “Tony” Bluml, made the same decision.
Mother and son each pleaded no contest to capital murder and two counts of aggravated robbery in the 2013 shooting deaths of Bluml’s adoptive parents, Roger and Melissa Bluml, as the Blumls sat in a truck outside their rural Valley Center home.
Schaberg and Anthony Bluml discussed killing the couple and then carried out their plan on Nov. 15, 2013, to get money, according to statements given in court Friday. Schaberg pulled the trigger.
Melissa Bluml, 53, died the following day. Her husband, 48, died about five weeks later.
Friday morning, Sedgwick County District Court Judge Jeffrey Goering found Schaberg guilty of the three crimes following her plea.
District Judge Ben Burgess did the same Friday afternoon when Anthony Bluml stood before him, dressed in a green jail jumpsuit, handcuffs and shackles.
Bluml, 20, will be sentenced June 16. Schaberg, 36, is set for sentencing June 24. Each faces life in prison without parole on a capital murder charge.
Family members of the Blumls were in the courtroom for both proceedings.
Most sat quietly during Schaberg’s plea.
When Anthony Bluml stood before the judge and said he wouldn’t contest the charges, his relatives bowed their heads. They rested their foreheads in their hands.
Facts from the case
Reading Friday from case facts laid out in the pair of plea deals, District Attorney Marc Bennett gave this account of how a reunion between a separated mother and biological son culminated in the deaths of the adoptive parents who took him and his younger brother in:
Sometime before the deaths, Schaberg contacted Anthony Bluml, whom she had given up for adoption years before. In the weeks before the shootings, the pair agreed to kill the couple. Anthony Bluml was motivated, in part, by the belief that he was named as a beneficiary to his adoptive parents’ estate.
Bluml arranged for Schaberg to have at least one handgun and a ride to his adoptive parents’ home on Nov. 15, 2013. He, meanwhile, had dinner with the couple to give his biological mother and another man charged in the slayings time to drive to their house at 5932 E. 109th St. North, near Woodlawn.
She got out of the vehicle and “positioned herself” around the house, intending to kill the Blumls when they arrived. Anthony contacted Schaberg by phone to let her know they were on the way.
Later, after the couple pulled into their driveway in a truck, Schaberg approached with a handgun. She fired into the right side of Melissa Bluml’s head.
She then turned the gun on Roger Bluml and pulled the trigger. She stole a purse, keys and a cellphone before leaving.
Schaberg, Anthony Bluml and two others – Andrew Ellington and Braden Smith, friends and Valley Center High School classmates of Bluml – were arrested and charged days later. Last fall, prosecutors announced their intention to seek the death penalty.
At a hearing last summer, one of the men charged in the killings testified that Anthony Bluml resented his adoptive parents for throwing him out of their home because he smoked marijuana and because he felt that the couple favored his younger brother, who is also Schaberg’s biological son.
Schaberg, according to Smith’s testimony, hated the Blumls because she thought they were keeping her from her children. The murder plot unfolded during a trip to Schaberg’s home in California, Smith testified.
Dressed in a teal long-sleeved blouse, black pants and black shoes, Schaberg was escorted by law enforcement officers into court Friday morning. She wore no ankle shackles or handcuffs. A dozen sheriff’s deputies stood watch.
She answered “yes” and “yes, sir” when questioned by the judge about her understanding of the plea and whether she thought the move was in her best interest.
Asked whether the decision to plead no contest to the charges was hers or someone else’s, Schaberg’s replied: “My decision.” Her voice was steady.
Anthony Bluml, when it was his turn, gave similar responses. His voice wavered as he spoke.
“To the charge of capital murder, tell me how you plead,” Burgess, the judge, asked Bluml.
“No contest,” he said.
“Of the charge of aggravated robbery of Melissa Bluml, tell me how you plead.”
And of the aggravated robbery of Roger Bluml?
“No contest,” the 20-year-old replied.
In addition to the life sentences, Schaberg and Bluml each will be sentenced for two counts of aggravated robbery in June. Those sentences – anywhere from 55 to 247 months each – will run consecutive to their life sentences.
Each remains in Sedgwick County Jail on $2 million bond.
No appeals, no executions
By pleading no contest, Schaberg and Bluml relinquish their right to appeal the convictions and sentences.
Prosecutors, in exchange, have agreed to not seek the death penalty. They also dropped charges of first-degree murder, burglary and misdemeanor theft as part of the plea deals.
Ellington and Smith are scheduled for trial later this year. Smith already has negotiated a plea deal that would lessen the most severe of his charges to two counts of second-degree intentional murder in exchange for his testimony against the others.
Prosecutors plan to ask that Smith serve 24 1/2 years in prison. A judge doesn’t have to abide by the plea agreement.
Friday’s pleas come just weeks after a tentative trial date of April 2016 had been set for Schaberg. Her jury trial was expected to stretch over a month or more, Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett had said.
Bluml’s jury trial had been set to begin Oct. 26 and likely would have taken about the same amount of time.
Bennett said after Schaberg’s hearing that her plea meant the Blumls’ families and the community would be spared a long ordeal in court.
Plea negotiations had been ongoing with her for months, he said.
Anthony Bluml had been considering his plea deal since late last year. It was offered after his attorneys approached prosecutors with information they believed would prompt a jury to reject a death sentence, according to statements in court Friday.
“Capital murder cases, whether they get the death penalty or not, receive a high degree of scrutiny from the appellate courts,” Bennett said after Schaberg entered her plea.
“I talked at length with the families … about what an appellate process means and whether or not finality for them and for the community is a good thing.”
He continued: “Do I think this is a good thing? Yes. There’s finality. This puts this to rest for the families. There’s an acceptance of responsibility. And the penalty is as profound as anything we have under the law at this time.”
When a defendant pleads no contest, that means he or she is not disputing the allegations set forth by prosecutors. Locally, Bennett said, such pleas or admissions of guilt in capital murder cases in the pre-trial stages are rare.
No executions have been carried out in the state since 1965.
Defense attorney Jeffrey Wicks would not speak with reporters about Schaberg’s plea. Asked for comment, he replied: “Gag order in effect.”
The defense attorneys in court with Anthony Bluml were not available for comment immediately after his hearing.
Family members of the Blumls did not want to speak with news reporters after the pleas were delivered.
But Bennett said their relief was apparent.
“Two of four people (charged in the case) have been held accountable,” he said after Schaberg’s hearing, not knowing by day’s end the number would grow to three.
“And I think they feel relief from that.”