Archive for Wednesday, October 25, 2006

County murder caseload high but not historic

October 25, 2006


Courthouse observers say it may be a record for Douglas County: Six murder cases pending in District Court, all from killings in the past year and a half.

"When I took office, we had two homicides on our plate," said Dist. Atty. Charles Branson, who took office at the start of 2005. "Then, boom, here we have six (people killed) last year, and we're on, what, four this year?"

A sign of growing pains for Lawrence and Douglas County? Probably not, police and attorneys said.

In fact, one of the more deadly years anyone can recall in recent Douglas County history happened nearly 30 years ago, when the population was two-thirds what it is today.

In 1977, according to a search of archives and the recollection of a longtime attorney, there were at least six homicides in the county. They included the killing of a woman found on railroad tracks near downtown with her legs cut off, an 84-year-old woman beaten to death in her home and a woman stabbed to death by a 13-year-old boy.

There also was a Woolworth's manager who was abducted, shot and killed in a robbery; a murder-suicide; and a beating during a burglary on Haskell Avenue that later proved fatal.

"The idea that it's more violent now is ludicrous. : It's calmer than it was then," said Craig Stancliffe, a defense attorney and former prosecutor.

To Stancliffe, what's happening now is "relatively normal."

"It comes in bunches, and it's so fickle," he said.

The number of murder cases pending at one time also depends on how quickly they're resolved. In one of the 1977 homicides, records show, the stabbing death of Margaret Maxey happened in February and defendant James Gardner had entered a plea and been sentenced by June - a time frame that's unusually short by today's standards.

The murder cases currently pending in District Court are unrelated.

The oldest is the April 2005 slaying of a Lecompton man found dead in his rural home after a burglary. Since October 2005, there have been allegations of a deadly arson, a baby killed in a child abuse case and a domestic abuse death. Shootings in downtown Lawrence and in Baldwin also have claimed lives.

Most recently, a 28-year-old Lawrence man, Anthony J. Vital, was found shot to death Oct. 15 in a field two miles west of Lawrence.

Lawrence Police Sgt. Dan Ward said the number of homicides within the city limits had not been unusual. This year there have been two, while there were three in 2005 and two in each of the three previous years.

But back-to-back years with a homicide in rural parts of the county, plus the shooting in Baldwin, have played a role in making things seem busier.

"I think the streets are generally as safe as they've ever been," Branson said. "We're saddled with a bunch of unfortunate, tragic events that have just all come together close in time. I sure hope, anyway, that we're not seeing a trend forward."

Homicide investigations cause a drain on police agencies' resources.

After a deadly shooting earlier this year outside the Granada, Lawrence Police said they'd used 38 percent of their annual overtime allotment just two months into the year.

"We expend a great deal of resources when we investigate a homicide," Ward said. "We are fortunate to have very talented, educated and experienced investigators who are capable of solving very difficult cases."

Branson said homicide cases become a "special project" for attorneys in his office, but their daily caseloads don't stop. Having a lot of pending homicide cases means the weekly "docket calls" in each judge's courtroom - when many defendants appear one after another to schedule hearings - tend to be longer.

"We're going to be on pace this year to file over 2,300 criminal cases. That's going to be 100 more than the year before and probably 200 or 300 more than the year before that," Branson said. "Everybody's got a full plate."

Murder in Douglas County
See our interactive map of homicide cases currently being investigated or winding through the courts »


ranger73 11 years, 6 months ago

The year ain't over yet!

The way the Wal-mart thing is going, there might be some bodies from that still to come...

jonas 11 years, 6 months ago

The murder rate's not historic yet?!

Shoot, time to get to work! Where's my katana?

Eric Beightel 11 years, 6 months ago

Murder - it sure is fickle. Now that's the sort of insight I'm looking for.

janeb 11 years, 6 months ago

Progressive Growth creates this problem.

concerned_citizen 11 years, 6 months ago

yeah, as long as they keep figuring Quantrill's Raid into the count, every year seems pretty good.

lunacydetector 11 years, 6 months ago

they need to do a story about unsolved murder cases in douglas county - they already did one about unsolved murder cases in the city, that there weren't any, but i think it's different in the county.

Dayna Lee 11 years, 4 months ago

Who died at 28th and Rawhide and why is it not making the news????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

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