Archive for Thursday, October 21, 2004

Kenney defends work on disputed rape case

October 21, 2004


A challenger to Dist. Atty. Christine Kenney said Wednesday that Kenney didn't do enough to oppose lightened sentences for the men convicted of having sex with an intoxicated 13-year-old girl.

"I think the District Attorney's Office fell down on the job," said Democrat candidate Charles Branson, who's trying to prevent the Republican Kenney from winning a third term on Nov. 2. "It's my experience in the courtroom that if somebody files a motion and you don't respond to it, you lose."

Kenney, however, defended her office's handling of the cases in an online Journal-World chat and in an interview.

"We covered our bases," she said. "I am comfortable that there is nothing more we could have done to change the outcome of that ruling."

In the days leading up to the sentencings for defendants William N. Haney, Brian K. Ussery and Michael J. Rayton, their defense attorneys filed motions asking Judge Paula Martin to break from state guidelines and give the men probation, not prison. The defense motions laid out arguments for why the men deserved lighter sentences or cited facts that portrayed the victim as a willing participant.

Prosecutors made oral arguments before sentencing and asked Martin to impose the standard prison sentence. They asked the victim's mother to get up in court and make a statement to the judge.

But they didn't file written responses to the original motions.

Martin ultimately granted the lighter sentences -- a decision that's led to an effort to vote her off the bench.

When a participant in the online chat asked Kenney on Wednesday why there were no written responses, she wrote that her office normally doesn't file responses to defense attorneys' motions until after there's been a hearing on the matter.

Kenney wrote that a judge was required to consider evidence, statements by the victim, and oral arguments -- not just written motions.

But Branson said Kenney's explanation fell short, given that Douglas County judges commonly impose sentences moments after hearing arguments about whether they should break from the sentencing guidelines.

"If she doesn't respond to a motion at a sentencing, you don't get a chance after that," Branson said. "For them to turn around and say, 'We did all we could' when they didn't take the simple step of responding to those defense motions, it's ludicrous.

"They could have gone through the transcripts and pulled out their own bits and pieces" to argue for the standard sentence, he said. "They didn't do that."

Also during the online chat, Kenney touted herself as the more experienced candidate when asked to cite differences between herself and Branson. She pointed out that Branson, a private-practice attorney and part-time Eudora city prosecutor, hasn't prosecuted a jury trial.

Kenney has been a prosecutor about 15 years. Branson has been practicing law about nine years.

Branson, 34, responded that in the past eight years, he'd handled more jury trials as a defense attorney than Kenney had prosecuted.

He also said he was one of the youngest attorneys to be put on a list of defense attorneys whom judges consider qualified to represent indigent clients in high-level felonies.

"Evidently the judges think I have the experience to handle these things," he said.

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