Eudora man gets more than 16 years in prison for strangulation death of disabled home-care client

The Eudora man who strangled his disabled home-care client to death in September 2014 was sentenced Friday to more than 16 years in prison for the crime.

Ronald Eugene Heskett, 49, was accused of twisting a towel around the neck of Vance “Van” Moulton, 65, on Sept. 12, 2014, and asphyxiating him. Heskett was originally charged with first-degree murder, but jurors found him guilty of the lesser second-degree murder.

His attorney, Michael Warner, asked Douglas County District Judge Peggy Kittel for a “downward departure,” meaning to sentence Heskett to less time than what the Kansas Sentencing Guidelines suggest for a defendant with Heskett’s criminal history. Heskett was convicted of felony criminal damage to property and misdemeanor trespassing in 1986, moving his suggested sentence from 165 months to 195 months.

Warner asked that Kittel consider that Heskett’s prior crimes happened about 30 years ago and sentence Heskett to 165 months. However, Prosecutor Eve Kemple argued that Heskett had entered into a diversion agreement with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office on a domestic battery charge after stipulating to having “grabbed his wife by the throat and strangled her until she could no longer breathe.”

Ultimately, Kittel sentenced Heskett to 195 months in prison. Heskett has one year and 10 days of time-served credit. He is also eligible for 15 percent good time credit, meaning that if he behaves in prison, he could be released nearly 30 months early.

During his September 2015 trial, prosecutors presented evidence to suggest that Heskett killed Moulton, who had cerebral palsy, for a financial motive, pointing to an approximate $13,000 in cash from government refunds missing from Moulton’s apartment. They also looked at a series of expenditures Heskett made, shortly after the checks were cashed, on a 1972 Chevelle and numerous car parts.

Heskett had claimed since Sept. 22, 2014, that the killing was an assisted suicide. He said Moulton, of Lawrence, had been persistently asking him to “shoot him” for six months to a year before Moulton’s death. Heskett testified at his trial that the missing $13,000 did indeed go to the car and car parts, but that it was as part of a plan with Moulton to “flip” the car and sell it for $25,000.

At Heskett’s sentencing hearing Friday, Prosecutor Eve Kemple read letters from Moulton’s friends to the court. Moulton’s college roommate and friend, Keith Slimmer, said Moulton “had the greatest laugh to light up any room.” Another friend, Adam Burnett, said Moulton was a “role model” and he “genuinely cared about other people.”

Burnett, who uses a wheelchair, as Moulton did, said his friend’s murder has shaped the way he views his own home-care attendants.

“I cannot look at (my care-attendant) workers the same again,” Burnett said. “We depend on them; we trust them. It bothers me knowing there is nothing he could have done to defend himself.”

After sentencing Heskett, Kittel acknowledged the judgment would be of little comfort to Moulton’s loved ones.

“No sentence … will bring Mr. Moulton back,” Kittel said. “People will leave here likely feeling as bad as they did when they arrived.”