Archive for Tuesday, August 29, 2000

Capital hears from pastor, book author

Thomas Bird supporters campaign for freedom

August 29, 2000

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— Two men who say Thomas Bird was wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife brought their campaign to the Statehouse steps to promote a new book and their belief.

The Rev. Ken Kothe and author Dave Racer met with reporters Monday to say that Bird is innocent of killing his wife, Sandra, in 1983. At the time a Lutheran pastor in Emporia, Bird was convicted in 1985 by a Lyon County jury.

"Now that the book is done, I think it clearly proves that Tom was wrongfully convicted," said Kothe of Burnville, Minn., a longtime friend of Bird.

He convinced Racer of St. Paul, Minn., to write the book "Caged Bird," which Racer published. The two men delivered copies of the book to the offices of Gov. Bill Graves, Chief Justice Kay McFarland of the Kansas Supreme Court and the Kansas Parole Board.

"Rumor, gossip and slander drove the investigation," Racer said. "It got to be like a soap opera, creating a demand that somebody had to pay for Sandy's death."

Racer also said, "No one knows how Sandy Bird died, except for God, Sandy and, if she was murdered, her murderer."

She was found dead in the Cottonwood River, where her car had run off a bridge.

But there are those who think Bird was guilty, including Dale Barger, the jury foreman at Bird's murder trial.

Barger said he was convinced of Bird's guilt from hearing testimony that Bird never called home after his wife didn't meet him at church as planned on July 17, 1983.

Barger also said the evidence suggested Bird and his secretary, Lorna Anderson, had an affair, and he thinks she drove Bird away from the crime scene.

Kothe and Racer maintain Anderson had a role in the murder but did not have an affair with Bird.

Kothe said he hopes to bicycle about 400 miles throughout eastern Kansas to promote the book and the idea that Bird is innocent. He said the hot weather has slowed him down but hasn't made him abandon his ride.

Aside from Topeka, other planned stops in the weeklong tour include Junction City, Council Grove, Emporia, Lawrence, Ottawa and Kansas City.

The two men urged the Supreme Court to order a new trial or for Graves to free him. Neither seems likely.

The state's highest court upheld Bird's murder conviction in 1986 and 1989. Graves has never granted clemency in his nearly six years in office.

In 1994, then-Gov. Joan Finney rejected Bird's clemency bid.

Bird is eligible for parole for the first time in November, and the Kansas Parole Board will hear his case in October at Lansing Correctional Facility, where Bird is imprisoned.

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