Wichita The state's highest court upheld the capital murder and aggravated kidnapping convictions of a Wichita man who was paid to kill a pregnant 14-year-old girl.
The Kansas Supreme Court ruled Friday that Theodore Burnett is not entitled to a new trial in the death of Chelsea Brooks. The Wichita teen was nine months pregnant when the father of the baby paid Burnett $200 in cash and $150 worth of crack cocaine to kill her.
Brooks disappeared on June 9, 2006. Her body was found six days later in a shallow grave in Butler County.
Everett Gentry, Burnett's accomplice, testified that Elgin Ray Robinson Jr. wanted to kill the girl because she was carrying his child and he feared her parents would charge him with statutory rape. Gentry also testified at trial that he drove the girl and Burnett to the grave site they had prepared, under the pretext of driving Burnett home. Burnett, who was sitting in the back seat, strangled the girl, who was in the front passenger seat, with a cord.
A jury found Burnett guilty as charged in 2008, but was unable to reach a unanimous verdict regarding the death penalty. The court gave him a life sentence without parole on the capital murder conviction and a consecutive sentence of 51 years and six months for aggravated kidnapping.
In its ruling, the Kansas Supreme Court rejected Burnett's claim of prosecutorial misconduct and agreed with the state that the prosecutor did not misstate, deliberately or otherwise, the law on aiding and abetting during closing arguments. It also rejected his claims that the court should not have allowed gruesome photographs, saying the photos were relevant and admissible to help the medical examiner explain her testimony.
While the appeals court agreed that the district court erred in giving the jury an instruction that another trial would be "a burden on both sides," it also concluded it was highly unlikely the jury would have returned different verdicts had the error not occurred and refused to reverse the convictions.
Gentry, then 17, pleaded guilty in 2006, to murder. Since he was a juvenile at the time, he avoided the death penalty and will be eligible for parole after serving 25 years. Robinson was convicted in 2008 of capital murder and other charges and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.