Topeka The Kansas Court of Appeals on Friday rejected the appeal of a Lawrence man who was given two consecutive Hard-25 sentences after he was convicted in 2011 of sexually abusing two girls under age 14.
Donald L. Brown II, who was 33 when he was convicted, filed what's known as a habeas corpus motion, alleging his imprisonment was a violation of either state or federal law. He argued that the trial court erred in not accepting his guilty plea during an arraignment hearing and that his defense attorney was ineffective.
According to the opinion, in August 2010 Brown was set to have a preliminary hearing, at which a judge would decide if he should be ordered to stand trial. At that hearing, though, Brown waived his right to a preliminary hearing and asked to enter guilty pleas on two counts each of rape, criminal sodomy and aggravated indecent liberties with a child. The charges involved two girls, ages 9 and 11 at the time, who would frequently stay at Brown’s northern Lawrence home in between school and church activities.
However, Judge Peggy Kittel declined to accept the plea at that time because neither prosecutors nor Brown had yet provided detailed information supporting the charge.
In addition, prosecutors said they wanted Brown to be sentenced under Kansas' version of Jessica's law, which requires a life sentence without the possibility of parole for 25 years in cases of sexual abuse against children under age 14 if the perpetrator is over age 18. The original charging documents, however, did not state Brown's age at the time.
In January 2011, Brown was allowed to plead guilty to amended charges that did reflect his age. He was given eight "Hard 25" sentences, with two of them running consecutively to the other six, which effectively meant he would not be eligible for parole for at least 50 years, and even then would be subject to post-release supervision for the rest of his life.
In September that year, Brown asked to withdraw his guilty pleas, arguing he had not been properly advised by his attorney. But Judge Kittel rejected that motion and the Kansas Court of Appeals upheld her ruling.
He filed his latest habeas corpus motion in September 2015, arguing that he is being held illegally because the court and his defense counsel erred in handling his first attempt to plead guilty.
Kittel rejected that motion in March 2016, and in a 28-page unpublished opinion released Friday, a three-judge panel of the Kansas Court of Appeals upheld her again.
"Brown cannot show that he was prejudiced by his trial counsel's performance because the trial court was not obligated, either in law or fact, to accept his August 17, 2010, guilty pleas," the panel wrote.
The opinion was signed by appellate Judges Henry W. Green, Michael B. Buser and Steve Leben.
Brown’s wife, Natasha M. Brown, in December 2011 was ordered to serve more than two years in prison after a jury convicted her of two counts of child endangerment for not reporting the sexual abuse.