On Friday, April 3, 2009, in Wichita, Michael Marsh entered an Alford plea in regard to the charges pending against him. Marsh’s capital murder conviction and aggravated arson conviction had been vacated by the State Supreme Court in 2004. Marsh entered a guilty plea to reduced charges. The plea was accepted by Judge Owens, and Marsh was sentenced to life in prison.
The Coalition issued the following statement.
The Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty is pleased that justice has been served by the prison sentence alternative to the death penalty in this case. The prison sentence handed down to Mr. Marsh is both lengthy and appropriate for his crimes.
The history of this case indicates how error prone the death penalty system is in Kansas. We are back in Court today because of the original capital murder conviction was voided by the State Supreme Court due to the trial judge’s error in regard to evidence.
So, almost 13 years after the deaths of Marry Ane and Mary Elizabeth Pusch, this case ended in a lengthy sentence. The families involved have been subjected to numerous hearings each with the potential to reopen painful wounds. We hope that given the lengthy sentence Mr. Marsh will serve, the families will have the support of their friends and community as they continue their journey toward healing.
And finally, it should be noted that this case again illustrates the reality of the impact of prosecutorial discretion operative in Kansas death penalty cases. The first time around, the District Attorney asked for a sentence of death. This time, the choice was for the alternative (a lengthy prison sentence) in a murder case with two victims. However in a recent case in a neighboring county, the prosecutor chose to ask for the death penalty in a case with a single victim. This disparity is evidence of the arbitrariness present in how the Kansas death penalty is applied.