Every year, hundreds of stories end up in the Journal-World about criminal events in Lawrence and the surrounding communities: sexual assaults, burglaries, drunken driving and the occasional shooting. This year, however, lacked some of the more high-profile crimes seen in years past. Instead, 2011 was a year of closure for several significant crime stories that date back several years.
Here’s the 2011 crime year in review:
• KU ticket scandal conspirators sentenced: Four Kansas Athletics Inc. employees and a paid consultant involved in the Kansas University ticket scandal, which surfaced in 2010 and cost KU $2 million in ticket revenue, all began federal prison sentences in 2011 following guilty pleas. In May, federal prosecutors said they would not be filing criminal charges against anyone else at KU. Prosecutors said there was no evidence that former KU Athletics Director Lew Perkins — who retired earlier than expected in September 2010 — “knowingly participated” in KU’s cash-for-tickets scheme.
The five received the following sentences: Rodney Jones, former assistant athletic director for the Williams Fund, 46 months; Kassie Liebsch, former systems analyst and former director of ticket operations, 37 months; Charlette Blubaugh, former associate athletic director for ticket operations, 57 months; Blubaugh’s husband, Thomas Blubaugh, former paid consultant, 46 months; and Ben Kirtland, former associate athletic director for development, 57 months.
• One sentenced in Yellow House case: Carrie Neighbors, previous co-owner of the Yellow House Store, 1904 Mass., was sentenced to eight years in federal prison for her role selling stolen goods. The government had accused her of knowing or being deliberately ignorant that goods, such as tools and electronics, sold from her store were stolen. During the six-day trial, federal prosecutors presented witnesses who said they sold merchandise to Neighbors at the Yellow House that they’d stolen from other stores in the area.
Neighbors’ husband, Guy Neighbors, was also charged in the case, but his trial had been delayed because he wasn’t declared mentally competent to stand trial until September. A drug charge against Guy was recently dropped, but two others involving the selling of stolen goods are still pending.
For nearly five years, the couple have accused police and prosecutors of corruption and repeatedly said they did not knowingly purchase stolen goods.
• Mistrial, sentencing in 2006 shooting: In December, after more than five years, one of two men arrested in connection with the Oct. 15, 2006, shooting death of Lawrence hip-hop artist Anthony “Clacc” Vital, was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Major C. Edwards Jr. of Lawrence pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter for his involvement in the crime. Prosecutors dropped charges against the other defendant, Durrell Jones, a Kansas City, Kan., man, in March after a jury was unable to reach a verdict in Jones’ first-degree murder trial.
Edwards testified during that trial that Jones shot and killed Vital to collect on a drug debt for PCP, and Edwards expressed remorse for leading Jones to Vital that night. Prosecutors later said Edwards had credibility problems, but a judge upheld his plea agreement for 14 years in prison. Officers arrested Edwards in Mississippi days after Vital was shot, but Jones did not publicly come into the picture until prosecutors filed charges against both men in 2008.
• Mother sentenced for attempted murder of her son: De Soto woman Rachel Perez was sentenced in May to eight years in prison after pleading no contest to the attempted second-degree murder of her 6-year-old son. In August 2010, police found Perez’s son, who has Down syndrome, locked in Perez’s attic, covered in feces and urine and weighing less than 20 pounds. At court hearings, doctors testified that the boy would have been dead within days because of severe dehydration and malnutrition. Perez gave an exclusive interview to the Journal-World, in which she said she never intended to harm the boy. Perez, who put the boy in the attic shortly before she was arrested on a traffic warrant, said she intended to take the boy down as soon as she was released from jail, but police discovered the boy first.
The boy was taken in by relatives, as were Perez’s other two children. It’s unclear what happened to the baby whom Perez gave birth to while in jail.
• Bike path assailant sentenced: William E. Nichols, a 31-year-old man who attacked and stabbed a 23-year-old woman on a bike path in 2010, was sentenced to 14 years in prison after pleading guilty to kidnapping, battery and sexual battery charges. The attack occurred in the middle of the afternoon on the path between the Youth Sports Complex and Clinton Lake. During the attack, Nichols was chased away by two 19-year-old Lawrence men, Aidan Waugh and Nathaniel Mehl, who were later honored for their actions.
• Fatal K-10 accident: In April, a vehicle driven by Eudora resident Ryan Pittman, 24, crossed the median on Kansas Highway 10 near Eudora, causing a head-on collision that killed 5-year-old Cainan Shutt and seriously injured two other passengers, including a 23-month-old. Pittman was pronounced dead at the scene, and later tested positive for marijuana, methadone and an anxiety medication, all of which investigators cited as contributing factors in the crash. The accident prompted area residents and family members of the victims to start a campaign urging the state to add cable median barriers on K-10.