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Headlines for Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Judge Halts Kansas Man's Execution Amid Claims Inmate Isn't Mentally Fit

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) — A U.S. judge has halted the execution of a federal death row inmate who, according to his lawyers, suffers from dementia. Wesley Ira Purkey was slated to be the second inmate executed by the government after a nearly 20-year hiatus ended this week. But a judge in Washington, D.C., imposed two injunctions Wednesday. The Justice Department is appealing in both cases. Purkey's lawyers claim he can no longer grasp why he's slated to die.  The inmate from Lansing was convicted of the 1998 killing of a girl in Kansas City, Missouri, and was scheduled for execution at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. Another man, Daniel Lewis Lee, was put to death Tuesday at the same prison.  


UPDATE: Kansas Congressman Charged with Providing False Information

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A freshman Kansas congressman is accused of providing false information to a sheriff’s deputy to hamper an investigation into whether he broke state election laws by listing a UPS Inc. store postal box as his residence on a state voter registration form. Republican Rep. Steve Watkins has been charged in state district court with two election fraud felonies, felony interference with law enforcement and a misdemeanor count of failing to inform the state’s Division of Vehicles of an address change. The district attorney's announcement of the charges Tuesday evening did not provide details, but they were outlined in a complaint obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday. 

(–earlier reporting–)

Kansas Congressman Steve Watkins Charged with 3 Felonies

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR/AP) — A freshman Kansas congressman, who had listed a UPS store as his residence on a voter registration form, has now been charged with three felony crimes, including unlawful voting.  Kansas Public Radio reports that Republican Representative Steve Watkins is accused of voting illegally, in advance, in 2019 local elections.  He's also charged with voting when not qualified and interfering with law enforcement by providing false information. Those felony charges were filed Tuesday in state district court in Shawnee County, which includes Watkins’s hometown of Topeka. Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay, who is a Republican, also charged Watkins with the misdemeanor of failing to notify the state of an address change. Watkins called the charges “hyper-partisan.” (Read more.)


COVID-19 Case Count in Kansas Exceeds 20,000, Including Nearly 300 Fatalities

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — Kansas just had its worst week-long spike in coronavirus cases since the pandemic began. The state reported an average of 451 new coronavirus cases a day during the seven-day period that ended Monday.  In just three days (Friday, Saturday and Sunday), another 1,447 COVID-19 cases were reported. As of Wednesday's update, the new statewide total stands at 20,933 since the pandemic began.  The virus has also claimed 299 lives in Kansas.  The virus has been confirmed in 102 of the state's 105 counties. Wyandotte and Johnson Counties have the most cases.  Another update is expected Friday.

(Kansas health officials release new data on COVID-19 case numbers on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.


UPDATE: Kansas Governor Says She'll Delay Reopening of K-12 Schools

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas’s governor says she will delay the reopening of the state’s K-12 schools for nearly a month until after Labor Day because of a resurgence in reported coronavirus cases. Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s announcement is all but certain to generate criticism from the Republican-controlled Legislature. Kelly announced her plans only hours after the State Board of Education approved roughly 1,100 pages of reopening guidelines for local boards of education. Kelly said she will issue an executive order Monday to delay reopening of schools until Sept. 9. The state health department reported that Kansas has had 20,933 cases. That's up 865 or 4.4% in two days.

(–earlier reporting–)

Even with COVID-19 Spike, Kansas Prepares to Reopen Schools

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas’s state school board has approved guidelines aimed at helping K-12 schools reopen safely next month despite the coronavirus pandemic. The State Board of Education voted unanimously for the guidelines Wednesday, even though members wondered whether districts have enough time to prepare and whether teachers even want to return. The non-binding guidelines call for all teachers and staff to wear masks inside and suggests that all students be told to wear them if they’re in middle or high school. Approval of the guidelines come after a weekslong spike that has pushed the state's reported coronavirus cases past 20,000.


KU to Test All Students, Staff for COVID-19

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas says it will test for COVID-19 all students, faculty and staff who return to campus for the fall semester. The Lawrence Journal-World reports Chancellor Douglas Girod said in a video message Wednesday that the university has made arrangements with the Clinical Reference Laboratory in nearby Lenexa to conduct the saliva testing. On-campus housing at the university will be setting aside rooms for quarantining if students do exhibit COVID-19 symptoms or test positive for the respiratory virus.


Missouri Reports 310 More COVID-19 Cases; Total Surpasses 27,000

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri Department of Heath and Senior Services is reporting 310 more confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 27,443. The state on Sunday also reported five more deaths, bringing the total to 1,069. State health officials say new cases of the coronavirus are being spread primarily by young people who infect many others. Health department spokeswoman Lisa Cox says the average age of newly diagnosed cases in the past week was a little over 37 years. Officials suspect the actual number of people with COVID-19 is much higher than the state-released statistics indicate because many people with mild or no symptoms do not get tested.


Largest City in Kansas Worries About Running Short of ICU Beds

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita officials worry that a continued resurgence of novel coronavirus cases will force the city's hospitals to scramble for new intensive care unit beds to treat patients. County Manager Tom Stolz told Sedgwick County Commissioners Tuesday that if current hospitalization trends and use of ICU beds for coronavirus patients continue into next week, it’s likely the situation will be deemed “critical.”  The mayor of Wichita is also warning that the city's hospitals could hit capacity this month as the number of COVID-19 patients continues to surge.  Mayor Brandon Whipple issued his warning Monday as the Sedgwick County Health Department reported that the hospitals are converting regular hospital rooms to intensive care units. He urged the public to wear masks.


Coronavirus Creates Election Worker Shortage in Wichita Area

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The top election official in the Wichita area is begging people to volunteer to work the polls because many of the retirees who normally fill the jobs have decided to skip this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Wichita Eagle reports that Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman said the office still needs about 170 more poll workers with less than a month to go before the primary. The COVID pandemic has sidelined 75 percent of the regular pool of election-day workers, who are senior citizens at particularly high risk of serious illness if they catch the novel coronavirus.


Walmart, Sam’s Club Will Require Shoppers to Wear Face Masks

UNDATED (KSNT) - Retail giant Walmart will soon require customers to wear face masks inside its stores.  KSNT TV reports the policy will begin July 20 at more than 5,000 Walmart and Sam’s Club locations.  Walmart said 65% of its stores are already located in areas where there is a government face mask mandate.  Company leaders say the policy change comes as they look to prioritize the health and safety of customers and employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Walmart will have an employee dedicated to enforcing the company’s requirements at store entrances.  “The ambassadors, identifiable by their black polo shirts, will work with customers who show up at a store without a face covering to try and find a solution,” the company said. “We are currently considering different solutions for customers when this requirement takes effect on July 20.”  Sam’s Club members who show up without a mask will be provided a complimentary mask.


Best Buy Requiring Customers to Wear Masks Amid Virus Spike

NEW YORK (AP) — Best Buy stores across the country now require customers to wear face coverings, even in states or localities that don’t require them to do so.  The policy took effect today (WED).  The consumer electronics retailer joins a growing but still shortlist of major retailers that have instituted mask mandates throughout their chains. Starbucks announced last week that customers who visit its company-owned café locations in the U.S. are now required to wear face coverings.  


Lawrence Developer Sentenced to Prison in Hotel Tax Case

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The developer of a seven-story hotel adjacent to the University of Kansas was sentenced to a year and a day in prison for a scheme to collect fraudulent tax refunds from the city of Lawrence. The U.S. attorney’s office said in a news release that 54-year-old Thomas S. Fritzel of Lawrence was also fined $25,000. Fritzel pleaded guilty in January to one count of criminal conspiracy.


Kansas Man Pleads Guilty in Oklahoma Cold-Case Deaths

VINITA, Okla. (AP) — The Kansas man charged in the 1999 deaths of an Oklahoma couple and the disappearance and presumed deaths of their teenage daughter and her friend has pleaded guilty to an accessory to murder charge. The Tulsa World reports 68-year-old Ronnie Busick entered the guilty plea Wednesday in an agreement with prosecutors. He was sentenced to 15 years, serving 10 years in Oklahoma Department of Corrections custody and five years under supervised release. Busick may get a lesser sentence if he provides information that leads to the recovery of the two Craig County teens. Busick is the only suspect still alive. The two girls have not been found despite numerous searches.


Judge: Kansas Must Pay Groups Who Challenged 'Ag-Gag' Law

A federal judge awarded on Wednesday nearly $176,300 in attorney fees and expenses to animal rights advocates who successfully challenged provisions in a Kansas law that banned secret filming at slaughterhouses and other livestock facilities. U.S. District Judge Kathryn Vratil issued the award after finding earlier this year that the state’s “Ag-Gag” law unconstitutionally criminalized free speech. The judge ordered Kansas to pay $175,317 in attorneys fees and $980 in expenses to opposing counsel. The litigation was brought by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Center for Food Safety, Shy 38 Inc., and Hope Sanctuary.


Topeka Police Investigate 3 Deaths, 2 Separate Shootings Just Hours Apart

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Police in Topeka are investigating two separate shooting incidents that happened hours apart and resulted in three deaths. Police say the first shooting was reported around 8 pm Monday, and arriving officers found two victims with gunshot wounds. Police say one victim had non-life threatening injuries. The other victim, 66-year-old Harry T. Jenkins of Topeka, was pronounced dead at the scene. Just before 2 am Tuesday, police responded to another shooting and found two victims with gunshot wounds dead inside a home. They were later identified as 37-year-old Crystal D. Andrews and 13-year-old Mercedes M. Holford, both of Topeka.


KBI: Explosive Devices Found in Western Kansas

LOGAN COUNTY, Kan. (KPR) - Authorities are investigating after homemade bombs were discovered on private property in western Kansas.  According to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the Logan County Sheriff’s Office, the improvised explosive devices were discovered Monday morning on rural property.  The Kansas Highway Patrol’s Hazardous Device Unit and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives responded to the scene to secure and deactivate the devices.  No arrests have been made but the investigation continues.  Anyone with information related to this investigation is asked to contact the KBI at 1-800-KS-CRIME or the Logan County Sheriff’s Office at (785) 671-3288.


Grandparents of Dead Kansas Girl Raised Concerns to State Agency

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — The grandparents of a 3-year-old Kansas girl who was killed said they raised concerns about her safety with child protective services before her death.  The toddler's death is the latest tragedy involving the state agency responsible for overseeing young children.  Elisabeth and Howard Jansen II spoke out on Sunday after their 29-year-old son Howard Jansen III and his 33-year-old girlfriend Jacqulyn Kirkpatrick were charged in the death of Olivia Ann Jansen, The Kansas City Star reported.  “She’s gone because of him, and her, and the system that wouldn’t help us," the girl's grandfather said.

Olivia’s body was found Friday nearly nine blocks from her Kansas City home, from which her father had reported her missing. Authorities haven’t released how she died.  Elisabeth Jansen said she expressed fears to the Kansas Department for Children and Families on June 21 that drugs were in the home where Olivia lived.  “We knew it was bad, but we had no idea what we’re finding out now,” Howard Jansen II said.  Their son and Kirkpatrick kept Olivia from them, and they hadn’t seen the girl since March, the grandparents said, adding that Olivia’s biological mother was going to let them take care of the girl once she was released from prison.  Laura Howard, secretary of the Department for Children and Families, said her agency reviews critical incidents to determine if there are any policies or procedures that need to be addressed.  

The grandparents were among the dozens of people gathered outside the Wyandotte County courthouse when District Attorney Mark Dupree announced that their son and his girlfriend had been charged with felony murder, aggravated endangering a child and criminal desecration in Olivia’s death.  Dupree said there was nothing he could say to ease their pain, but vowed to seek justice for “baby Olivia.”  Olivia's grandparents said the little girl was once sassy but, at some point, she lost her spark.  “She knew she was going to die,” Elisabeth Jansen said.  

Child welfare officials also have acknowledged that they received repeated reports about a 2-year-old Wichita boy before he was found dead in a motel of a methadone overdose last May. A 3-year-old Wichita boy’s body was found encased in concrete in 2017 after relatives repeatedly reported abuse. In the Kansas City area, a 7-year-old boy was tortured, starved, killed and fed to pigs in 2015 despite extensive involvement with welfare officials.

Earlier this month, the state settled a class-action lawsuit filed by child care advocates who accused the state of not providing foster children with adequate mental health care and moving them too frequently between homes.


Kansas Priest Sentenced to Prison for Possessing Child Porn

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Federal prosecutors said Wednesday that a Kansas priest was sentenced to more than three years in prison for possessing child pornography. The U.S. attorney's office said in a news release that 47-year-old Christopher Rossman was also ordered to pay $5,000 under the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act. He admitted in his plea that investigators found child pornography on his Samsung Galaxy tablet. Rossman formerly served at the Annunciation Catholic Church in Baldwin City, Kansas. The archdiocese contacted law enforcement after monitoring software installed on Rossman’s computer devices showed he had visited adult and child pornography websites in September 2016.


More Layoffs at Textron Aviation in Wichita

WICHITA, Kan. (KMUW) — Textron Aviation says it will lay off about 800 employees, the majority of whom work in Wichita. The company’s announcement Tuesday morning is the latest in an seemingly-unending string of bad news for the city’s aviation industry. Textron Aviation said in June it would lay off about 250 salaried employees.  These latest layofs will include members of the company’s unions. The company blamed continued economic uncertainty from the pandemic for the latest reductions. Wichita’s aircraft manufacturers have announced about 6,000 job cuts since January. That doesn’t include the hundreds of jobs lost at smaller aviation supply companies.


Casino Company Boyd Gaming Laying off Workers in 10 States, Including Kansas

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A U.S. casino company with 29 properties in 10 states is laying off thousands of employees, citing a slow restart to business following closures due to the coronavirus pandemic. Las Vegas-based Boyd Gaming Corp. said in a statement Monday that an unspecified number of furloughed employees will not return to work. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported 2,500 company workers in Nevada could be affected. The publicly traded company had about 10,000 employees in Nevada and another 14,300 nationally, according to its last annual report. Boyd Gaming operates the Kansas Star Casino in Mulvane and the Ameristar Casino and Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri. It also has properties in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania.


Kansas Woman Sentenced to Life for Killing Estranged Husband

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas woman has been sentenced to life in prison for killing her estranged husband more than three years ago. The Kansas City Star reports that 54-year-old Barbara Frantz was sentenced Tuesday and will serve at least 25 years before she is eligible for parole. Leavenworth County prosecutors say Frantz shot Gary Frantz five times on January 27, 2017. Police found him gravely wounded in a parking lot in downtown Leavenworth. Police say that before he died, he told officers his wife had shot him, and investigators found shell casings in her apartment that matched ones found at the shooting scene.


Drug-Diluting Kansas City Pharmacist Set for Early Release from Prison

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A disgraced Kansas City pharmacist, convicted of diluting cancer drugs and other prescription medication for profit, will serve the remainder of his prison sentence outside the prison walls.  Robert Courtney is being released early because of the coronavirus.  But an attorney for Courtney's victims, Michael Ketchmark, is calling on officials to reverse that decision.  In December 2002, the former pharmacist was sentenced to 30 years in prison.  But Ketchmark told the Kansas City Star that he was informed the 67-year-old inmate could be released as early as this week to a halfway house and then to home confinement. The Bureau of Prisons didn’t immediately return messages from the AP seeking comment.


Mixed Response to Federal Crime Fighting Help in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A new effort to combat violent crime in Kansas City through an infusion of 100 agents from the FBI and other federal agencies has been greeted with a mixture of praise and concern from community leaders. KCUR reports that supporters of the program that the White House announced last week said the city needs help as its homicide count for the year soars. But others want funding to focus on community investment and repairing the relationship between police officers and Black residents. A police spokesman said the federal agents will be involved with investigations and prosecution of violent crime as opposed to routine street patrols.


College Football & the Coronavirus; Season Approaches as COVID-19 Cases Spike

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR/KNS) - When it comes to college sports that generate revenue, football is king.  From major universities to smaller schools, football is the lifeblood of athletic programs.  But just like everything else, the coronavirus continues to complicate college sports.  And, as more student athletes test positive for the virus, colleges must now make a big decision: move ahead with fall sports like football, or... put the games on hold.  Some college sports conferences have already decided how they'll handle the football season during this pandemic.  Others have not.  Sports correspondent Greg Echlin examines the impact of college football on their schools and communities.  


KPR's daily headlines are generally posted by 10 am weekdays and updated throughout the day.  KPR's weekend summary is usually published by 1 pm Saturdays and Sundays.

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