Topeka — A comment made by a Douglas County prosecutor in a murder trial four years ago became the focal point of discussion Tuesday before the Kansas Supreme Court.
In 2008, Shanna Friday was sentenced to 14 and a half years in prison for the beating death of Jerry Deshazer, 62, who bled to death from a head wound he suffered during a dispute after a night of drinking at his southeastern Lawrence mobile home.
During the trial, Douglas County Assistant District Attorney Amy McGowan urged the jury to find Friday guilty and give Deshazer back his dignity.
On Tuesday, Shawn Minihan, an attorney with the Appellate Defender Office and representing Friday in her appeal, told the Kansas Supreme Court that the comment was out of bounds and represented prosecutorial misconduct.
But Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said the comment was made to rebut Friday's defense, which alleged Deshazer was a mean drunk.
Minihan argued that prosecutors should have rebutted that defense with testimony that showed Deshazer behaved when he drank, or that his behavior was irrelevant. "They didn't. They chose to attack the defendant's theory of defense," he said.
Justice Lee Johnson asked Branson how the "Give the victim his dignity back" comment had anything to do with helping the jury weigh the evidence. "What was the purpose of that?" he asked.
Branson conceded that the comment "probably shouldn't have been said." But, he said, the comment showed the recklessness of the crime. "They beat this person who was left to bleed to death," he said.
Friday, now 41, has said she was not responsible for Deshazer's death.
A co-defendant, Jerod Buffalohead, had testified during Friday's trial that he saw Friday striking Deshazer with a glass bottle in the face and head during a drunken argument. Buffalohead pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to five years in prison.