Crime & Courts

Self-defense killings drive Wichita’s homicide total above last year’s

Wichita had more homicides this year than any year since 1995, driven in part by an increase in self-defense killings, an analysis of law enforcement records shows.

At least 43 people died by homicide in Wichita this year, up five from last year. The increase came because of self-defense killings, which increased by five — from three to eight, Wichita police said.

Before Kansas’ stand-your-ground law passed in 2007, if there was an opportunity to escape violence, or a chance to retreat, a person had to make that the first option before using force.

That’s no longer the case. Kansas is one of many states where citizens have no legal duty to retreat from an attacker in any place where they are lawfully present. A killing is justifiable in Kansas when a person “reasonably believes” that the use of deadly force is “necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm” to that person or a third party.

Decisions about whether the eight killings were justified in 2018 were not made by a judge or jury but instead by by prosecutors based on evidence gathered by police. One case will be argued next month to determine whether another homicide will be added to the self-defense category.

Under Kansas law, prosecutors can’t file charges against someone in a self-defense killing unless the state can establish beyond a reasonable doubt that a person did not act in self-defense, Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said.

First, prosecutors have to decide if a person believed he or she had to act when using deadly force. Second, prosecutors consider if that belief was reasonable under the facts known to that person at the time of the killing, Bennett said.

Charges may be declined if the evidence is insufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that a person acted in self-defense, Bennett said.

“In Kansas, we also have statutory self-defense immunity, which means a person is immune from being prosecuted at all if the state cannot establish that the person was not acting in self-defense,” Bennett said.

In the past three years, Wichita police have worked five times as many justifiable homicides as during the first six and a half years of the stand-your-ground law, according to numbers provided by police. From 2006 to the middle of 2012, Wichita police worked three justifiable homicide cases, police said at the time. From 2016 to 2018, there have been 15.

Nationally, police shootings account for the majority of justifiable homicides — 429 of the 782 justifiable homicides enforcement in 2017 were by police.

That wasn’t the case in Wichita this year. None of the self-defense killings in 2018 was by on-duty police officers. One was by an off-duty police officer who shot and killed a man who had entered his west Wichita home high on meth and armed with a stolen gun, police officials and an autopsy report said.

In addition to the eight homicides deemed justifiable, another suspect, Leon Dukes Jr., is claiming self-defense after being arrested and charged in connection with the shooting of Lafian Berryman near 21st and Grove.

Berryman’s death is one of 23 homicides that resulted in an arrest of a suspect in 2018. Seven of Wichita’s 43 killings this year remain open investigations, Wichita police Officer Charley Davidson said.

Twelve homicide cases were closed by police without an arrest, including the self-defense killings and one with a publicly identified suspect who has been able to evade authorities since July.

Homicide data can be uncertain because law enforcement can never be 100 percent sure about the cause of some deaths. For instance, the high-profile, mysterious death of 5-year-old Lucas Hernandez is not included in this year’s total.

Guns were used in most of the killings — 31 out of 43.

Many of the cases involved meth, which state leaders have said is driving violent crime. Most of the suspects arrested knew the homicide victims.

Wichita police encourage members of the public to report tips and information about any of these killings by calling homicide detectives at 316-268-4181. Crime Stoppers accepts anonymous tips on its website or by phone at 316-267-2111.

Below is a brief description of the 43 homicides in Wichita in 2018.

Self-defense homicides

Jan. 8: Police said Ky Jones Jr., 20, and Jeremy Burdine, 20, were trying to break into a home in the 1500 block of West Merton when the man inside fired several shots through the front door, killing both men. Autopsy reports show Jones was shot in the back, arms and legs and Burdine was shot in the chest.

The man who fired the shots was not arrested in that case but was later booked into Sedgwick County Jail on suspicion of a Jan. 6 home robbery in which prosecutors say he stole a gun. He was also charged with criminal possession of a firearm by a felon. He was convicted and is being held at El Dorado State Prison, where his earliest release date is Oct. 24, 2021, Kansas Department of Corrections records show.

April 29: Jeremy Riggans, 37, was shot to death in the 2400 block of North Prince, near 23rd Street North and Grove. A white SUV pulled up to his driveway and he opened fire on it, police said. The driver of the SUV, a 38-year-old man who police have not identified, returned fire.

Police said the two men “have a history that goes back several years” and that Riggans had pulled a gun on the other man at a convenience store near 21st and Erie earlier in the day.

The man who shot Riggans was arrested early the next morning and booked into jail on suspicion of possession of a firearm by a felon. He has not been charged with a crime related to Riggans’s death.

May 26: Billy Bargas, 45, was killed in a fight with his girlfriend’s 23-year-old son. Bargas’s girlfriend told police that Bargas tried to punch her son before her son punched him once in the head.

An autopsy report says Bargas was hit in the head and knocked unconscious around 7 p.m. Witnesses waited about 40 minutes, then called police “since he had not regained consciousness.” He was pronounced dead at a hospital.

The 23-year-old man has not been arrested or charged in connection with the death.

July 3: Christian Webb, 24, who had a criminal history of home burglaries, entered an off-duty Wichita police officer’s house through an open garage door in west Wichita with a stolen gun in his hand.

Webb began making demands of the officer, whose two daughters and wife were nearby in the house, police said. The officer then grabbed his police-issued service weapon and shot Webb nine times, killing him, according to an autopsy report and a police account of the shooting. Webb’s autopsy showed he had meth in his bloodstream when he was killed.

The officer was shot in the leg and recovered from his injuries, police said.

Aug. 18: Jesse Villalobos, 36, and Manuel Otano-Hernandez, 24, died in a late-night shootout in an alley near 21st and Market in north Wichita. Police say two groups of people — one in a parking lot and one in an adjacent back yard — got into an argument after someone in the parking lot began firing a pistol into the air.

The argument ended with Villalobos and Otano-Hernandez dead from gunshot wounds. Both deaths were determined to be self-defense killings. Bennett, the district attorney, called this “a mutual combat incident during which both parties were deceased.”

Sept. 27: Jose DeLeon, 23, pulled out of an apartment complex driveway, got in front of a truck and got out of his vehicle armed with a golf club, demanding money from the truck’s driver, police said.

DeLeon began smashing the back window of the man’s truck with the golf club.

The driver of the truck pulled out a handgun and shot DeLeon. He called police and stayed at the scene, police said. County prosecutors declined to file charges.

Open cases

No arrests have been made in these cases.

Jan. 25: Cherise Schneider, 36, was hit in the head by a bullet fired through the window of a house in the 700 block of North Edwards. Wichita police said she was not the intended target. Three men who were inside the home at the time of the shooting were questioned, but no arrests were made.

Feb. 6: Myranda Keck, 18, was living out of a car near Harry and George Washington Boulevard when someone pulled up beside her around 2:15 a.m. and fired a gun into the window, hitting her in the head and killing her, an autopsy report says. Police said her 40-year-old mother and 18-year-old boyfriend were also in the car at the time.

March 18: Dwayne Brunson, 27, was shot eight times — including once in the head — around closing time at Dueces Bar, 3105 N. Arkansas, in north Wichita. Although there were as many as 35 people at the bar, police said they had limited cooperation from witnesses. Brunson was a former basketball standout at Barton Community College in Great Bend. He died on the morning of his son’s birthday.

March 30: Darren Williams, 36, was shot three times in the head when he and his 35-year-old girlfriend went to meet a man just before midnight at the Sugar Creek Apartments near Pawnee and Oliver. Police said he got into a fight with the other man before he was shot.

June 30: Michael Maxwell, 29, was found dead in his car just after closing time near Vixen’s Erotic Sports Bar, 212 W. Harry. Police said he was targeted after a fight in Old Town earlier in the evening. Original reports said a sport-utility vehicle pulled up beside Maxwell and someone inside the SUV fired several shots into his vehicle, hitting him multiple times.

July 27: Illya Mitchell, 51, got into a fight with another man at an apartment complex near 21st and Grove that ended with his death, police said. An autopsy report said he was shot in the head twice.

July 28: Jamarious Carter, 27, was found dead around 3 a.m. by Wichita police inside a house in the 2100 block of South Palisade, near Pawnee and Broadway. Carter was shot in the neck and the back by someone outside who fired into the house, police said.

Closed without an arrest

Feb. 25: Javier Carbajal, 25, was gunned down in a north Wichita grocery store parking lot on a Sunday afternoon. Around 4:20 p.m., he was leaving Food Mart at 13th and Market when someone in a light-colored vehicle pulled into the parking lot and opened fire, police said. The investigation has been closed by police and turned over to prosecutors, according to officials with the police department and the Sedgwick County district attorney’s office. No further information was provided.

April 17: Emmitt Olson, 40, was shot to death at a house in the 2900 block of South Sayles, said a witness who called 911. As many as six other people were in the house at the time, but they were gone when police arrived. The investigation has been closed by police and turned over to prosecutors, according to officials with the police department and the Sedgwick County district attorney’s office. No further information was provided.

July 7: Lucy Mojica, 41, was shot to death in her home near Wichita North High School at 17th Street and Arkansas. The next day, Wichita police identified Mojica’s boyfriend Juan Carlos Caballeros-Yescas, 25, as a suspect and issued a warrant for his arrest, saying he “should be considered armed and dangerous.” Police said he possibly left the state for Texas or Mexico in a 2010 Volkswagen Beetle with Minnesota license tag number 119TDG.

Aug. 19: Debra Fisher, 55, was stabbed to death by her 28-year-old son, Cody Comstock, who later shot himself in the head at their home in the 1000 block of East MacArthur, according to police reports. Comstock was a veteran and had a history of post traumatic stress disorder, according to his autopsy.

Cases with an arrest

Feb. 11: Donte Devore, 18, was at a residence near Lincoln and Edgemoor when there was a knock on the door. Three or four people armed with guns were waiting outside. Devore fought with one of the people and was shot multiple times, according to a probable cause affidavit filed in the case. Veontre Moore, 18; J’arim St. Louis, 18; and Lascottric Yarbrough, 19, were arrested with first-degree murder in Devore’s killing. Police said the three teens stole marijuana and money from Devore. Yarbrough’s trial is scheduled for April 8. Moore and St. Louis were juveniles at the time of the killing, but prosecutors want them to stand trial as adults.

Feb. 19: Christopher Coley, 19, was shot in the head during what police described as a drug deal in the Dillons parking lot at 135th and Maple. He died of his injuries on March 5. Raymond Alvarez, 22, was arrested the day after the shooting. He was charged with first-degree murder during the commission of a felony aggravated robbery, and has pleaded not guilty. His next court appearance is Jan. 7.

Feb. 24: Deontae Mitchell, 25, was found lying in a yard at 1631 S. Faulders around 1 a.m. after a neighbor reported hearing gunshots. Witnesses told police Mitchell was shot outside after an argument at a party. Douglas “Trey” Pete III, 23, was arrested that afternoon. He has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and will next appear in court on Jan. 14.

March 25: Tyran Carter, a 17-year-old runaway, was shot to death around 12:45 a.m. in the 800 block of South Pershing. He and another person had been in a fight before he was shot, police said. Emond Gulley, 15, was arrested and is standing trial as an adult on first-degree murder charges. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Jan. 15.

April 8: Leuh Moore, 37, was found in a dumpster behind the Cave liquor store on South Seneca. Her autopsy report found stab wounds to her neck and face, evidence of strangulation and blunt-force trauma to the head. Her husband, Donnell Casey Danterio Stafford, was arrested four days later in Iowa. A jury found him guilty of first-degree murder on Oct. 26. Stafford was sentenced Dec. 6 to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 50 years.

April 10: Jazz Gwyn, 6 months, was taken to the emergency room by his parents when he stopped breathing. Dorl Gwyn, the child’s father, told police he had been shadowboxing with his son and punched him in the chest to make him a tough person. He told police he wanted to make Jazz the toughest kid by age 5, according to an affidavit. He has been arrested and charged with murder. He has entered a plea of not guilty; his case is scheduled for trial on April 1.

April 17: Trenton Custer, 39, died from being shot in the neck, back and chest. He lived in a mobile home in the 3800 block of South Meridian with his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend, and that’s where a neighbor found him dead on April 17. Dewayne Austin Cope, 30, was arrested 15 days later. He is facing first-degree murder charges. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Jan. 25.

May 2: Bretodd Williams, 30, was shot and killed around noon on May 2 near Funston and Elpyco. 31-year-old Emmanuel Reed was arrested later that day. He was found guilty in Williams’s murder and is asking the court for a new trial.

May 2: Jacob Healzer, 39, died of meth intoxication and blunt force trauma to the head and neck in the 200 block of North Sabin, according to his autopsy report. His death was determined to be a homicide. Bryce Alan Martin, 29, was arrested and booked into jail on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter in Healzer’s death. He was not charged with manslaughter; instead he was charged with possession of meth with intent to distribute and aggravated battery. He posted $150,000 bond on May 11. Martin’s attorney is challenging evidence presented by the state. His next court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 4.

May 4: Tony Bunn, 2, was reportedly beaten to death for not eating a hotdog on May 4. He was taken to a hospital by ambulance that day after he stopped breathing. His mother, 22-year-old Elizabeth Woolheater, and her boyfriend, 25-year-old Lucas Diel, were charged with first-degree murder and child abuse in the case. Diel’s trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 11. Woolheater’s next court hearing is scheduled for that same day.

June 8: Leroy Hudson, 68, was stabbed to death in the street near 17th and Erie in northeast Wichita. Witnesses told police there was a fight between Hudson and another man. Wichita police later arrested Otis Johnson Jr., who was found driving Hudson’s truck, which had blood in it. Johnson told police he had dropped Hudson off at a house and took the truck with his permission after they had gone together earlier in the evening to buy about $600 in crack cocaine. Johnson was charged with first-degree murder. His arraignment is scheduled for Jan. 22.

June 10: Isaac Lewis, 37, was shot to death after hours at Daquiri’s Club, 7007 E. Harry. Brandon Evans, 36, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Jan. 4.

June 19: Lafian Berryman, 30, was shot to death near 21st and Grove during an argument involving multiple people. Police say Leon Dukes Jr., 30, fired one shot at Berryman, who had gotten out of a truck during the argument and started screaming at him. Dukes has been arrested and charged with voluntary manslaughter in Berryman’s death; he says he acted in self defense. A motion to dismiss his case is set for a hearing on Jan. 4, where his attorney says evidence “will show that (Dukes) fired his gun in self defense and any reasonable person would have done the same thing.”

June 26: Mackenzie Payne, 22, was stabbed to death in her apartment near 21st and Amidon. Dylan Leigh Barber, 25, called police around 2 a.m. and told them he had killed his girlfriend, a probable cause affidavit says. When police arrived, they found Payne had been stabbed multiple times with a kitchen knife, the affidavit says. Barber’s first-degree murder trial is scheduled to begin March 25.

June 30: Patrick Ball-Morse, 23, died from a gunshot wound to the head at an apartment complex near Pawnee and McLean. He and his 25-year-old girlfriend got into an argument with her 34-year-old brother that led to the shooting, police said. Robert Hill, 34, who has a previous conviction for meth possession, was arrested at an Oklahoma bus stop days later on suspicion of Ball-Morse’s murder. Hill’s trial is scheduled for Jan. 28.

June 30: Eula Duncan, 55, was found dead in her apartment at 1212 S. Longfellow after a neighbor called in a welfare check. The cause of death was blunt-force trauma to the head; the autopsy report lists manner of death as undetermined. After speaking to witnesses, police arrested Calvin Thornton, 59, 10 days after Duncan’s death. A witness told police Thornton had picked up a long brown square stick near Duncan’s front door and told the witness to leave as he and Duncan argued. Witnesses had not seen her alive since then. In October, Thornton was found incompetent to stand trial for second-degree murder and is at Larned State Hospital for an evaluation before court proceedings resume.

June 30: Anthony Martinez, 24, walked into a hospital around 12:30 a.m. with gunshot wounds to his arm and abdomen. He had been in a backyard in the 2200 block of South Main with about five people when his cousin Martin Ruiz, 27, brought out a bag of guns, police said. Ruiz pulled out one of the guns and shot Martinez, who died at the hospital from his injuries, police said. It is being treated as an accidental shooting, police said. Ruiz was charged with involuntary manslaughter. His trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 19.

Aug. 13: Austen Wright, 24, was shot in the head outside Vixen’s Erotic Sports Bar, 212 W. Harry, at closing time. Hernan Quezada, 25, and Mario Sandoval, 26, were arrested within a few days. Both were charged with first-degree murder. Quezada’s next hearing is scheduled for Feb. 8. Sandoval’s arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 8.

Aug. 26: Desmond Winesberry, 46, was shot at his home in the 2300 block of North Chautauqua. A probable cause affidavit says Winesberry and 31-year-old Damien Manuel were “tearing the house apart” looking for Manuel’s meth. A witness told police that Manuel had accused Winesberry of stealing a sack of meth from him before the shooting. Manuel was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. His next court date has not been set at this time.

Aug. 30: Patrick Kempton, 2 months, was found unresponsive, pressed up against his sleeping father’s chest as they lay in a hotel room bed at the Scotsman Inn, 5299 W. Kellogg Drive. The child’s family had been living at the hotel for about a week and his parents had been drinking. Both parents — Kristy Rollings and Kyle Kempton — have pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment.

Sept. 16: Matthew Anderson, 34, died after being beaten and stabbed in the stomach at the Emily Apartments near 19th and Broadway. Alan Price, 36, and Christopher Turner, 29, were arrested and charged with second-degree murder. Their preliminary hearings are scheduled for Jan. 28.

Oct. 23: Jackie Jerome, 43, was shot to death around 4 a.m. at the Delux Inn, 8401 W. Kellogg Drive. Police say he and 22-year-old Cory Bentley got into an altercation and Bentley fired multiple shots from a handgun, hitting Jerome. Bentley was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Jan. 30.

Nov. 13: Ray Nunley, 48, was trying to calm down a fight in the 2200 block of South Glendale when he was shot around 5:43 a.m., police say. Aubrey Montez Oliver, 28, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Jan. 10.

Nov. 29: Floyd Gilbert, 88, was found dead in his mobile home off MacArthur between Seneca and Meridian. Police would not disclose the nature of his injuries and his autopsy is not yet available. Two men with a history of meth use, Landon Onek, 54, and Austin Stewart, 36, were arrested and charged with first-degree murder, aggravated robbery and two counts of theft in connection with Gilbert’s death. Their preliminary hearings are scheduled for Jan. 24.

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Chance Swaim won the Betty Gage Holland Award in 2018 for distinguished service to honor and protect the integrity of public dialogue on America’s college campuses. He has been a news reporter for The Wichita Eagle since 2018. You can contact him at 316-269-6752 and cswaim@wichitaeagle.com.
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