Defense puts off plea in BTK case

Dennis Rader, accused of being Wichita's notorious BTK serial killer, made an unusual request after waiving his preliminary hearing Tuesday in Sedgwick County District Court: to postpone his plea for 10 days.

Later, Steve Osburn, the chief public defender for Rader, declined to give specifics on why he asked for the delay until May 3. Osburn only said that the defense needed more time to meet filing deadlines tied to the arraignment, where Rader plans to plead not guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder.

A defendant's only significant filing deadline linked to an arraignment, however, involves "lack of mental state" — the so-called insanity defense.

Although the state law governing such a defense is now narrowly drawn, it was more lenient before 1996. Rader faces 10 counts of first-degree murder spanning from 1974 to 1991, and the old law might apply.

Kansas law says the state must receive written notice of an intent to use such a defense "not more than 30 days after entry of the plea of not guilty...."

Osburn asked for, and Judge Greg Waller granted, a 10-day continuance.

Rarely do lawyers in Sedgwick County ask for a delay in the arraignment.

"We need more time to prepare for the arraignment," Osburn said afterward.

"As you may know, after an arraignment, we will get some very tight filing deadlines, and this gives us a head start in working on those," Osburn added without elaborating.

While not discussing specific strategies, Osburn said people shouldn't read anything into Tuesday's hearing, other than the need for more time to prepare a defense in a complex multiple murder case covering more than three decades.

Osburn also tried to squelch questions about possible plea-bargain negotiations.

"That is not happening at all," Osburn said.

Defendants commonly waive preliminary hearings. Osburn said Tuesday's hearing wouldn't likely have produced new information other than what prosecutors already provided to the defense.

Yet the prospect of the state having to produce its first public evidence against Rader became an anticipated spectacle of interest both here and across the nation. National news media came to Wichita for the hearing, which lasted less than two minutes.

Both prosecutors and the defense expect the case to go to trial — another indication Rader plans to plead not guilty.

"We want the community to hear the facts of this case, and to me, the trial is the most important phase of this," District Attorney Nola Foulston said.

Foulston said she and her team of prosecutors can also use the extra time to prepare their case. A preliminary hearing might have consumed as many as 10 days.

As in his initial court appearance last month, Rader appeared calm and reserved.

On Tuesday, dressed in a bulletproof vest and leg irons under his striped gray suit, the 60-year-old answered simply, "Yes, sir," to Waller's questions about his decision to forgo the preliminary hearing.

The quiet demeanor Rader has displayed starkly contrasts the mythical image of the outspoken BTK. The killer sent taunting letters to police and news media, bragging of cruel slayings, leaving teasing clues and calling on demons that caused him to "bind, torture and kill" — the hallmark of his nickname.

But Rader is also known to those closest to him as president of his church council, the leader who taught boys in his Scout troop how to tie knots for their merit badges and the devoted husband who raised two children to adulthood.

Rader, who remains in the Sedgwick County Jail, is set for arraignment eight days before his 34th wedding anniversary.

The public, meanwhile — some of whom lived in fear years ago when BTK seemed to strike at will, and those haunted more recently with the killer's sudden return in the spring of 2004 after 25 years of silence — will have to wait to hear the case against Rader.