After saying that state sentencing statutes in the case of a 22-year-old man convicted in two fatal shootings "seem to put too low a price on human life," a Douglas County judge on Wednesday sentenced the man to the maximum prison term.
Stephen Bradley Perdue was sentenced to five to 20 years on one count of voluntary manslaughter and three to 10 years on a count of involuntary manslaughter stemming from the Nov. 27 deaths of Jim Buswell, 42, and Jerry Thompson, 32, both of Topeka. The two men were shot in the parking lot of a local bar and grill.
Douglas County District Judge Ralph M. King Jr. ordered the sentences -- the maximum allowed by state law -- to run back to back. Because a firearm was used in the crime, Perdue must serve the minimum term of eight years before he will be eligible for parole.
"One of the problems in cases like this is in the statutes themselves," King said. "They seem to put to low a price on human life."
King said he ran the sentences consecutively "to give significance for each life taken."
The judge said about 150 people had written to him about the case, most asking him to consider probation for Perdue. He said that to treat the crimes lightly "would only encourage others to use guns to settle fistfights."
During Perdue's trial, which ended April 20, witnesses testified that the shootings were prompted by an argument between Perdue and a friend and a group of men that included the victims. The argument, witnesses testified, broke out over a pool game at Henry T's Bar and Grill, 3520 W. Sixth.
A brief fistfight broke out, and the men were ordered to leave the bar. Perdue testified that after he left the bar, he went to his pickup truck and got a 9mm handgun out of the glove box.
He testified that he got the gun in order to protect himself and his friend, Donald Hall, Baldwin.
During a scuffle in the parking lot, Buswell was shot twice and Thompson was shot once.
King handed down the sentence after denying defense motions for acquittal and for a new trial. After the sentence, he denied a defense motion that would have given Perdue probation.
As the hearing drew to a close, King ordered Douglas County Dist. Atty. Jerry Wells and defense attorney James Rumsey not to make comments about each other to the press regarding the Perdue case.
King could not be reached afterward to expound on that order.
But the order was clearly in reaction to comments made by both men after the trial. Rumsey, who was defeated by Wells in the 1992 district attorney's election, told reporters after the trial that prosecutors had displayed "a lack of experience and the ability to evaluate facts" when they originally charged Perdue with first-degree murder in both shootings.
Experience was a key issue in the campaign.
Wells answered that Rumsey's comments were "political sour grapes."