Woman convicted in hit-and-run killings of Douglas County road construction workers seeks clemency

photo by: File Photo

Ramona Morgan was sentenced in 2008 to serve 26 years in prison for striking and killing two highway workers south of Lawrence in September 2007.

A woman convicted of murder for mowing down two construction workers with her pickup is seeking executive clemency.

Within days of public notice being published, feedback on Ramona Morgan’s quest had already started coming in.

Whether that feedback is pro-pardon or anti-pardon, the Kansas Department of Corrections Prisoner Review Board can’t share at this time, board administrator Ashley Maxwell said. However, Maxwell said recently that she’d received comments about Morgan from members of the public and county officials alike.

Publishing a legal notice is one of the first steps in a long — and almost always unsuccessful — application process for a convicted criminal to get a pardon from the governor of Kansas.

“Executive clemency is considered a means to remedy a miscarriage of justice. It is an extraordinary method of relief,” the Prisoner Review Board website explains.

Kansas governors have issued just nine pardons in the past 25 years, according to media reports from a June news conference where Gov. Jeff Colyer rejected an entire batch of 21 applications. In his seven years in office, past Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback granted a single pardon.

Morgan, now 59, is an inmate at the Topeka Correctional Facility, according to Kansas Department of Corrections records.

In 2008, a Douglas County District Court judge sentenced Morgan to 26 years in prison after a jury convicted her of two counts of second-degree murder and one count of aggravated battery for recklessly killing two men and injuring a third.

The fatal incident happened on Sept. 11, 2007, at a 2-mile construction zone on U.S. Highway 59 near Pleasant Grove, south of Lawrence. Killed were construction worker Rolland Griffith, 24, of El Dorado, and Kansas Department of Transportation inspector Tyrone Korte, 30, of Seneca. Construction worker Curtis Delzell was injured.

According to testimony at her trial, covered by the Journal-World, Morgan was angry and sleep-deprived when she drove through the work zone twice that morning, missing some workers while driving north and then making the fatal strikes while heading south. Kansas Highway Patrol troopers testified that Morgan accelerated to at least 51 mph in the seconds before impact.

Morgan kept driving all the way to Osage County, where law enforcement officers arrested her after using stop sticks to puncture the tires of her damaged truck.

Craig Springer, of Hillcrest Wrecker, unloads the truck that prosecutors say Ramona Morgan was driving when Tyrone Korte and Rolland Griffith were killed on U.S. Highway 59. The vehicle was displayed for the jury outside the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center.

Morgan had traveled with her adult daughter from her home in Chewelah, Wash., to buy land and a mobile home in central Missouri but wasn’t satisfied with the property’s condition, she testified. She claimed that after beginning her trip back to Washington, still carrying cash for the property deal, a gang of robbers kept harassing her on the road. She said one man even shot at her and Missouri police wouldn’t help.

Morgan said she was driving on the two-lane road in Douglas County when a woman started hitting her truck with a stop sign (that woman, a construction worker, testified she was trying to get Morgan to stop before driving through the zone a second time). Morgan said she thought the woman was one of the people trying to kill her and hit the gas out of fear.

Morgan denied running over any people, insisting she only struck orange barrels.

The Prisoner Review Board has not yet received Morgan’s full application for clemency, Maxwell said late last week, noting that publishing a legal notice needed to be done first.

Morgan’s ad appeared in the Oct. 9 edition of the Journal-World. It says “persons wishing to comment” on her clemency application should mail statements to the Prisoner Review Board in Topeka within 15 days.

A letter from the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office is among feedback the board has received so far, according to the DA’s office. They’re requesting that Morgan’s application be denied, according to Cheryl Wright Kunard, assistant to DA Charles Branson.

“Based on our knowledge of the case and interactions with Ms. Morgan throughout the criminal proceedings, we genuinely believe that she is dangerous and the safety of the community would be jeopardized if she were to receive the Executive Clemency she seeks,” Wright Kunard said, quoting from the letter. “She should serve the entirely of her sentence.”

Maxwell said that once her office receives an inmate’s formal application for clemency, it has 120 days to review it and send it to the governor with a recommendation. She said the governor ultimately decides whether to grant clemency but has no timeline for making that decision.

According to numbers from the Prisoner Review Board, in the past three years the board has received a total of 81 applications and sent eight of those to the governor with a favorable recommendation.

photo by: Kansas Department of Corrections

Ramona Morgan, pictured in 2012

Contact Journal-World public safety reporter Sara Shepherd

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