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Archive for Saturday, July 22, 2000

Convicted teen-agers face life

July 22, 2000

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— Two teen-agers wept as they were led from the courtroom, knowing they face mandatory life prison sentences for the death of a young couple in a traffic collision that occurred while the teens were fleeing police.

Family members sobbed and hugged each other while friends of the victims, Rick Sloan and Simone Sanders, looked on after the verdict.

"It's hard to be happy about it when you see their families affected like that," said Randy Jones, a friend who had introduced Sloan and Sanders.

Benjamin Rogers, 19, and Kenneth Kunellis, 16, both of Kansas City, Mo., were convicted in Johnson County District Court Thursday of two counts of first-degree felony murder, burglary and theft. The felony murder charges carry mandatory life prison sentences with no chance of parole for 20 years. Sentencing was scheduled for Sept. 21.

Sloan and Sanders, both 30, were killed when a panel truck traveling the wrong way on U.S. 69 in Lenexa collided with their car.

Rogers was driving the stolen truck with Kunellis and his brother, Christopher, 17, in the back along with three motorcycles they had stolen from an Olathe dealership. Christopher Kunellis suffered severe head injuries in the collision and has not been charged.

Police officers were alerted to the burglary and pursued the truck until it began traveling the wrong way on the highway. The crash occurred a short time later.

Kansas law stipulates that the crime of first-degree felony murder covers a death, even when it is accidental, if it occurs during the commission of or flight from an inherently dangerous felony.

The defense sought to portray the break-in and fatal crash as separate acts. Assistant District Attorney Rick Guinn said in closing arguments, however, that Rogers was doing everything he could to keep from getting arrested. And he argued that Kunellis and Rogers intended to steal more than three motorcycles but were interrupted during the burglary.

Lawyers for the two teen-agers acknowledged that their clients were guilty of burglary and theft but argued they were not guilty of the murder charges. John Gerstle, who defended Kunellis, argued that his client had nothing to do with the flight from police. He and his brother were in the back of the truck, Gerstle said, and "completely at the mercy of another human being."

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