Topeka The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday overturned two of three capital murder convictions against a man found guilty in a 2002 shooting spree that left five people dead in Wyandotte County, saying they amounted to double jeopardy because they were based on the same crime.
The ruling eliminated two of the three life sentences Errik Harris had been serving, meaning he could be considered for parole in 25 years, rather than 75.
Harris, 31, was convicted on three counts of capital murder after a non-jury trial before District Judge Thomas L. Boeding in Kansas City, Kan. He was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences.
The Supreme Court ruled that two of the three capital murder counts and resulting life sentences improperly involved the victims and facts used to support the first capital murder count.
Under Kansas law, a person can be charged with capital murder for a crime involving multiple slayings that are connected.
In the unanimous opinion, written by Justice Carol A. Beier, the court said convicting Harris of more than one count for a single offense defined by the Legislature to cover more than one victim created the "potential for multiple punishments" for a single offense, in violation of the double jeopardy clauses.
"We conclude that, in order to avoid double jeopardy under the federal and state constitutions, defendant could be convicted and punished for only one count of capital murder" under state law, Beier wrote.
According to prosecutors, Harris helped Darrell Lamont Stallings, 37, in the June 2002 shootings that began as retaliation for the attempted robbery and beating of Stallings' mother two months earlier. In a separate trial, Stallings was sentenced to five consecutive life terms in prison.
Two people were caught and convicted for those crimes, but Stallings thought Anthony and Trina Jennings played a role, too. Trina Jennings, 26, who was eight months pregnant, was killed; her 29-year-old brother, Anthony, was wounded.
Prosecutors said none of the victims was involved in the attack on Stallings' mother. Also killed were Samantha Sigler, 24; Destiny Wiles, 23; Tameika Jackson, 24; and Melvin Montague, 34, all of whom prosecutors said died because they were witnesses to Trina Jennings' killing.
Because Harris didn't plead guilty but agreed to what is called "stipulated facts," he retained the right to appeal. The defense agreed to the arrangement because District Attorney Jerome Gorman said he wouldn't pursue the death penalty.