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Archive for Thursday, December 7, 2000

Court ponders death penalty

Capital punishment law on trial as justices hear Kleypas’ appeal

December 7, 2000

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— The Kansas Supreme Court considered its first death penalty appeal under the 1994 capital punishment law when it heard arguments Wednesday in the case of convicted murderer Gary Wayne Kleypas.

At issue was Kleypas' conviction and sentence of death by lethal injection for the 1996 stabbing death of Carrie Williams.

Williams was a 20-year-old student at Pittsburg State University.

Following his 1997 trial, Kleypas was the first person convicted under the current death penalty statute and the first to have his case reach the state's highest court. Three other people are under sentence of death in Kansas.

The points of view expressed by Atty. Gen. Carla Stovall and Kleypas' attorneys were expected. Stovall maintained Kleypas is guilty and deserves the death sentence.

"No error was great enough to require reversal," Stovall told the seven justices.

Attorneys Steve Zinn and Jessica Kunen maintained Kleypas was, among other things, the victim of numerous errors by the court, prosecutors and the jury.

They said the law is unconstitutional.

"It carries the ultimate responsibility for the defendant to show why he shouldn't be put to death," Kunen said.

The court allowed each side to argue for an hour apiece, twice the normal length. Arguments were divided between the guilt and penalty phases of the trial. At one point, the court allowed Kunen to go beyond her allotted time.

Normally, opinions on cases heard this month would be issued Jan. 26. But the court said it would be after that date before there's a ruling in the Kleypas case because of some 3,000 pages of briefs covering 51 issues and numerous sub-issues.

At trial, the jury heard that Williams' body was found on the bedroom floor of her apartment, that Kleypas' phone number appeared on her caller ID, and that investigators found blood matching his in her apartment.

Two days after the murder, Kleypas was found in a Springfield, Mo., motel room, disoriented and covered in his own blood after slashing his neck, wrists and ankles.

Jurors viewed a videotape of Kleypas saying he killed Williams because he didn't know what to do after sexually assaulting her. He said after failing to strangle Williams, he "cut and stabbed her repeatedly."

Zinn argued Kleypas' statement should have been suppressed because it was involuntarily induced by a threat from an investigator who said "Are we going to have to get out and walk?"

Stovall said the statement wasn't intended as a threat and the investigator knew his comments were being tape recorded.

Throughout the hearing, justices asked questions of both sides sometimes to clarify a point and other times to question statements by attorneys.

Questioned by Justice Fred N. Six, Zinn said the comment was made as Kleypas was in a car with investigators traveling fast on a rural road.

"How would it be a threat that he said are we going to have to get out and walk?" asked Justice Donald Allegrucci.

Zinn replied: "It creates a tremendous amount of intimidation."

Zinn said Kleypas also improperly was denied a chance at trial to present an expert witness to testify he was suffering an alcohol blackout at the time of the crime.

"How does Canadian Mist work into this?" asked Justice Robert Davis.

Zinn replied: "This was evidence of intoxication at that time."

Zinn argued state law says a person can't be subject to the death penalty if a killing occurs during an attempted rape. Stovall said the court was being asked "to engage in gymnastics" in that reading of the law.

The death sentence should be set aside because the prosecution didn't ask for a separate sentencing hearing, Zinn said.

"We complied with the requirement," Stovall said. "They were there with 13 witnesses for mitigation. There was never any question what the state intended to do."

Kunen said the trial judge erred in telling the jury how it should consider the aggravating and mitigating circumstances during the penalty phase of the trial.

Stovall said: "There were no errors committed in this phase. The jury was correctly instructed."

Those aggravating circumstances included a prior felony conviction for killing a 78-year-old woman in Missouri; a crime committed to avoid arrest or prosecution; and a crime committed in an atrocious or cruel manner.



The case is State vs. Kleypas, No. 80920. Texts of Supreme Court decisions are at http://www.kscourts.org.

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