A Douglas County jury convicted a man of a drug-related murder on Tuesday, but that doesn't mean the case is solved.
After a day and a half of deliberation, jurors found Topeka resident Michael W. Kesselring, 42, guilty of first-degree murder, kidnapping and conspiracy to commit kidnapping.
The jury concluded Kesselring helped kidnap and kill Topekan Dale A. Miller in September 2001 after Miller stole two duffel bags full of cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine from a drug syndicate.
Assistant Dist. Attys. Dan Dunbar and Trent Krug won the case even though they didn't prove that Kesselring was, in fact, the person who shot Miller that night by the side of a rural road in Lecompton.
"I didn't prove it because I didn't have to," Dunbar said. "It wasn't that crucial to me or to our case who the triggerman was."
Topeka resident Gary F. Holmes, 53 -- the only person who admits being at the scene of the murder -- pleaded guilty to kidnapping charges in exchange for his testimony against Kesselring. He's expected to be sentenced today to at least 10 years in prison.
Holmes said he got drunk the night of the kidnapping, passed out, woke up in a car in Lecompton with Kesselring driving, got out to urinate and saw Kesselring shoot Miller.
But Holmes admitted holding a gun that night and gave differing versions of the shooting throughout the investigation.
"I could not prove that Gary Holmes didn't pull the trigger," Dunbar said. "Did he get off lighter than what he could have? Yeah, I suppose so, but I don't think we would have gotten this conviction without his participation."
Under state criminal statutes, all Dunbar had to prove was that Kesselring was a knowing participant in the kidnapping that led to Miller's death, he reminded jurors during his closing argument.
That left jurors to decide whether they could place Kesselring with Holmes and others who admitted conspiring to kidnap Miller that night-- or whether they believed Kesselring's story that he only saw the group for a moment because he wanted to buy some marijuana.
Kesselring's attorney, Martin Miller, argued throughout the trial that the drug-ring members who pointed the finger at Kesselring couldn't be trusted because they had a motive to shift blame.
"I would suggest to you that this crime is far from being solved," Miller said in his closing argument.
After the jury delivered its verdict, a juror said one of the most convincing pieces of evidence was that a woman who wasn't involved in the drug ring, Donna Welty, testified she saw Kesselring with the kidnappers that night.
Also, jurors saw letters Kesselring wrote a co-defendant in the Douglas County Jail as evidence he was involved with the kidnapping, said a juror who didn't want to be identified.
The recipient of Kesselring's letters, Curtis D. Callarman, is expected to be sentenced today on charges of kidnapping and conspiracy. He admitted luring Miller from a Topeka home the night of the kidnapping.
Kesselring looked at jurors as Judge Paula Martin read their verdict. He didn't say a word as two sheriff's deputies led him away in shackles.
Martin scheduled Kesselring's sentencing for April 30.