KANSAS CITY, KAN. With five people dead in a killing spree shocking even for this crime-troubled city, residents here might be forgiven for wondering why one of the suspects wasn't already locked up.
He was, after all, convicted in a double murder.
The June 10 killing rampage was the second event in as many days to shine a spotlight on convicts who get out of prison, only to commit new crimes. The day before the killings, The Kansas City Star reported that Wyandotte County has had to release at least 21 suspected felons over the past five years because their trials were not scheduled on time. Seven of them went on to commit felonies within months of the dismissals.
All this in a year when overall violent crime is down in the city, according to police chief Ron Miller. The city has seen 25 homicides so far, compared with 27 at this time last year.
But that was small comfort on June 10, when Miller's pager went off four or five times overnight roughly one page for each of the five dead bodies found that morning in killings that Miller says were drug-related.
One of the suspects in that case, Darrell Lamont Stallings, had been paroled just 10 months ago after serving about 12 years for a double murder, despite a sentence of 20-to-life. That frustrates Miller.
"The criminal justice system that paroles murderers is partly responsible for this situation," Miller said. He said the system "should have kept Darrell Stallings in prison for life for the murder he was convicted of."
Stallings is charged with five counts of capital murder, but remains at large. A judge set bond at $2.5 million.
Miller said the June 10 shootings, which also left two others wounded, killed more people than any other case in his 30 years with the department. And it could get worse: The sister of one of the victims, who was dating Stallings, is missing, too. Police say they fear for her safety.
All of this makes Gene Schmidt mad.
His daughter Stephanie, was a 19-year-old student at Pittsburg State University in 1993 when she was killed after accepting a ride from a former co-worker. Her killer was on parole after serving 10 years for raping a college woman.
Gene Schmidt said the public often forgets that most prisoners get released, eventually. In Kansas, 19 prisoners died behind bars during the year that ended June 1, 2001, according to the state corrections department. During the same period, about 4,300 prisoners were released, either as parolees or because they had finished their sentence.
"People have to realize, that just because these guys get a prison term, they're going to be back," Schmidt said. "Sometimes they're back sooner than they should be."
He said the Wyandotte County cases dismissed because of a failure to set a trial date are especially vexing.
"Particularly on violent criminals, it's a shame that we're letting them out at all," he said. "If a man who molested a child, or a daughter, was let go because someone didn't get the paperwork done on time, I think I'd be camping on the doorstep of that courtroom."