While fifteen men have been sentenced to death since reinstatement of the Kansas death penalty in 1994, only nine of them are still in prison under a sentence of death. Two of the fifteen died of old age before their appeals were complete, and four others have been resentenced to life due to plea agreements during the course of their appeals. So despite the taxpayer cost of fifteen capital trials – and sometimes more, as some of these cases have had portions re-tried – to this point, less than two-thirds of Kansas death verdicts are even eligible to ever be carried out.
Kansas doesn’t technically have a “death row”, but inmates under sentence of death are typically held in administrative segregation. Most are at El Dorado Correctional Facility in the little town of El Dorado, Kansas. Although it has not happened in Kansas yet, the Department of Corrections has stated that any woman sentenced to death would be held at Topeka Correctional Facility.
To date, no executions have occurred under the 1994 law, and most legal experts agree that none are likely to happen anytime soon.
People Currently Sentenced to Death
Gary Kleypas (Crawford County) was convicted of capital murder for the 1996 rape and murder of Carrie Williams in Pittsburg, Kansas. In its first review of his case, in 2001, the Kansas Supreme Court found serious problems with the death penalty statute, and required a new trial for the penalty phase of the Kleypas case. The new sentencing trial was held in Wyandotte County in 2008, because the court found that a fair jury could not be empaneled in Crawford County. On September 15, 2008, a jury again sentenced Kleypas to death, and in October 2016 the Kansas Supreme Court affirmed that verdict.
In 2018, Kleypas filed a letter purportedly asking to dismiss a further post-conviction challenge, but in December 2022, the Kansas Court of Appeals found that the district court was wrong to dismiss the case without first holding a hearing to determine that Kleypas was competent and understood what he was doing. Kleypas’s post-conviction case was reinstated, and is currently proceeding in the Crawford County district court.
Reginald Carr (Sedgwick County) was convicted of capital murder for the December 2000 murders of Jason Befort, Brad Heyka, Heather Muller, and Aaron Sander, and of non-capital first degree murder for killing Ann Walenta four days before the quadruple murder. His death sentence was overturned by the Kansas Supreme Court in July 2014, but was reinstated by the United States Supreme Court in 2016. After further proceedings in the Kansas Supreme Court that challenged aspects of the case under state law, Carr’s death sentence was affirmed by that Court in January 2022. Review was denied by the United States Supreme Court in early 2023, and Carr’s case is currently in post-conviction proceedings in Sedgwick County.
Jonathan Carr (Sedgwick County) was convicted of the same five murders as his older brother, Reginald. The two brothers were tried together, and, while they have been represented by separate teams of attorneys and support staff at every stage, their cases have largely mirrored each other to this point.
John E. Robinson, Sr. (Johnson County) was convicted of capital murder in the deaths of Izabel Lewicka and Suzette Trouten, and of first degree murder in the case of Lisa Stasi, who disappeared in 1985 and was never found. His convictions were upheld on appeal in November 2015, and the United States Supreme Court denied review in October 2016. His case is currently in post-conviction proceedings in Johnson County.
Sidney Gleason (Barton County) was charged in the shooting deaths of Miki Martinez and Darren Wornkey in February 2004, and sentenced to death in July 2006, despite the fact that the evidence showed that his co-defendant, Damian Thompson, actually killed Martinez. Thompson, who was willing to make a deal with the prosecution to testify against Gleason, got a life sentence and will be eligible for parole in 2029.
Gleason’s death sentence was overturned by the Kansas Supreme Court in July 2014, but was reinstated by the United States Supreme Court in 2016. After further proceedings in the Kansas Supreme Court that challenged aspects of the case under state law, Carr’s death sentence was affirmed by that Court in February 2017. Review was denied by the United States Supreme Court in October 2017, and Carr’s case is currently in post-conviction proceedings in Barton County.
Scott Cheever (Greenwood County) was charged with killing Greenwood County Sheriff, Matt Samuels, in January 2005. He was sentenced to death in November 2007. In 2012, the Kansas Supreme Court reversed Cheever’s conviction because of a violation of his Fifth Amendment rights, but the United States Supreme Court reversed that ruling in 2013. After further proceedings in the Kansas Supreme Court, Cheever’s death sentence was affirmed by that Court in July 2017. Review was denied by the United States Supreme Court in December 2017, and Cheever’s case is currently in post-conviction proceedings in Greenwood County.
Justin Thurber (Cowley County) was charged with killing of 19-year-old college student Jodi Sanderholm, in January 2007, and sentenced to death in March 2009. On appeal, Thurber’s attorneys argued that he could not be legally executed because he is intellectually disabled. In 2002, in Atkins v. Virginia, the United States Supreme Court had ruled that it is cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment to execute someone who is intellectually disabled.
In June 2018, the Kansas Supreme Court affirmed Thurber’s convictions, but reserved ruling on several penalty phase issues in order to remand Thurber’s case back to the Cowley County district court for additional evidence about whether he is intellectually disabled. Once the district court issues its findings, the Kansas Supreme Court will resume jurisdiction of the case and decide the remaining issues if necessary.
James Kraig Kahler (Osage County) was charged with killing his estranged wife, Karen Kahler, his two daughters, Lauren and Emily Kahler, and his wife’s grandmother, Dorothy Wight, over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2009. Despite evidence that Kahler had snapped under the depression and pressure caused by the Kahler’s divorce and was legally not competent because of mental disease or defect at the time of the killings, Kahler was sentenced to death in October 2011.
In February 2018, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld Kahler’s convictions and sentence, but in March 2019, the United States Supreme Court granted review on the question of whether Kansas’s “insanity defense” statute was constitutional. The United States Supreme Court ultimately upheld the Kansas statute in March 2020. After further proceedings in the Kansas Supreme Court that challenged aspects of the case under state law, Kahler’s death sentence was affirmed by that Court in May 2022. Kahler’s case is currently in post-conviction proceedings in Osage County.
Kyle Flack (Franklin County) was charged with capital murder for the shooting deaths of Kaylie Bailey and her young daughter, Lana. He was also charged with non-capital, lesser degrees of homicide for the deaths of Steven White, Kaylie’s boyfriend, and Andrew Stout, another friend. Flack was sentenced to death in March 2016, which is currently the last death sentence imposed in Kansas.
Flack has appealed, arguing, among other things, that his attorneys’ high caseloads, lack of support, and the judge’s failure to give them enough time to prepare, led to them being unprepared for his trial. The Kansas Supreme Court heard argument on the case in January 2022, and Flack is awaiting a ruling.
People Who Died Before Their Appeals Were Completed
Douglas Belt (Sedgwick County) was convicted in November 2004 of capital murder, attempted rape, and aggravated arson for the killing of Lucille Gallegos in west Wichita. Belt docketed an appeal in 2005 and filed his initial appellate brief in 2010. He then died in prison in April 2016. Because of Belt’s death, the Kansas Supreme Court ultimately declined to rule on several of the issues raised in his case, but issued an opinion posthumously affirming all but the attempted rape conviction in October 2016.
Frazier Glenn Cross (Miller) (Johnson County) was sentenced to death in November 2015 after charges that he killed William Corporon, Reat Underwood, and Terri LaManno. While all three victims were Christian, Cross killed them at Jewish community locations and said he was specifically seeking to kill Jewish people. At trial, a doctor testified that Cross, who was elderly and chronically ill, likely only had five or six years to live. Cross represented himself throughout the trial.
Cross’s appeal, which argued, among other things, that he should never have been allowed to represent himself, was argued in March 2021, but Cross died in prison just a few months later in May.
People Who Have Been Resentenced to Life Pursuant to Plea Agreements
Michael Marsh (Sedgwick County) was convicted of the 1996 killings of Marry Ane Pusch and her daughter, Marry Elizabeth. He was sentenced to death in April 1998. On review of the case, the Kansas Supreme Court reversed Marsh’s capital murder conviction based on errors in the trial. The Court also ruled that the Kansas death penalty statute was unconstitutional because of its requirement that, when a jury at the sentencing hearing finds aggravating and mitigating factors to be equal, they must choose death.
The United States Supreme Court subsequently took review of the case, and reversed the Kansas Court’s decision on the constitutionality of the death penalty statute in June 2006. But, on remand, in October 2006, the Kansas Court reiterated that Marsh still had to be retried due to the other errors in his trial. To avoid that retrial, in April 2009, he reached a plea agreement with Sedgwick County District Attorney and was sentenced to life in prison.
Gavin Scott (Sedgwick County) was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1996 murders of Doug and Beth Brittain. His death sentence was overturned by the Kansas Supreme Court in May 2008 and remanded for a new penalty phase trial. Before that trial could take place, however, in March 2010, he reached an agreement with the State to drop the death penalty in exchange for two consecutive life sentences, making him ineligible for parole for approximately 85 years. Another man convicted in the circumstances surrounding these two murders received two consecutive life sentences at his original trial.
Stanley Elms (Sedgwick County) was convicted of the 1998 rape and murder of Regina Gray. Elms was sentenced to death in February 2000, but his sentence was affected by the 2001 decision in the Kleypas case. In light of that, his attorneys worked out an agreement with Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office, where they agreed to drop the death penalty for Elms, if Elms agreed to dismiss a pending appeal accusing prosecutors of misconduct during the case. In November 2004, Elms was resentenced a hard-40 sentence – life in prison with no possibility of parole for 40 years – which was the longest sentence available as an alternative to death at the time his crimes were committed. (Kansas has since changed the statute to require life without possibility of parole as the only alternative to a death sentence in capital murder convictions.)
Phillip Cheatham (also known as King Phillip Amman Reu-El) (Shawnee County) was convicted of capital murder and other crimes in the deaths of Gloria Jones and Annette Roberson, and attempted murder of a third victim, Annetta Thomas. He was sentenced to death in September 2005. His appeal alleged woefully inadequate assistance of trial counsel, and the Kansas Supreme Court remanded the case to the district court to make initial findings on counsel’s performance.
In February 2010, a Shawnee County District Court Judge ruled that Cheatham should be resentenced due to inadequate representation of counsel during the penalty phase of his trial, but declined to find that the guilt phase was impacted. The Kansas Supreme Court agreed, in part. In its January 2013 decision, it found that counsel’s performance did impact the penalty phase, but the Kansas Supreme Court found that it impacted the guilt phase, as well. The Court remanded the case for an entirely new trial.
As jury selection for that trial was starting, in February 2015, the parties reached a plea agreement that would remove the death penalty as an option and require Cheatham to serve a controlling sentence of almost 39 years before he would become parole eligible. Cheatham has since sought to withdraw that plea, but has been unsuccessful. His trial attorney was ultimately disbarred for his conduct in Cheatham’s case.