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Headlines for Wednesday, May 26, 2021

UPDATE: 2021 Kansas Legislative Session Ends with No Veto Overrides

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas lawmakers officially wrapped up their work and adjourned the 2021 session Wednesday without overriding any of the governor's vetoes, but they did ask her to trim back unemployment benefits. Both chambers of the Kansas Legislature passed a resolution calling on Democratic Governor Laura Kelly to opt-out of the additional $300 per week unemployed Kansans can currently get from the federal government. The resolution isn’t binding, so Kelly can ignore it. But Republican Senate President Ty Masterson says it sends a signal. “The intentions were good in the beginning, and the need was there, but we’re at the point where this extra program has become a bit of a perverse incentive to our employment,” he said. Republicans argue the extra benefits are keeping people from taking open jobs but Democrats say there are other factors to consider like childcare and low wages. Twenty-three states with Republican Governors, including Missouri, have ended benefits before they were set to expire in September.

(Earlier reporting...)

Kansas Lawmakers Meet Wednesday for One More Day in 2021 Session

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - The Kansas Legislature’s session will officially end today (WED) and Republican lawmakers could attempt to override some of Governor Laura Kelly’s vetoes. The Democratic governor vetoed two big bills that Kansas Republicans were eager to pass. One would’ve allowed small businesses that were closed because of the pandemic to get federal COVID aid. Kelly vetoed that because she said it violated rules on how federal pandemic assistance money can be used. The other bill would’ve allowed for longer short-term insurance plans, which don’t cover as much as regular insurance. Critics call these health plans junk insurance. A spokesperson for Republican Senate President Ty Masterson said override attempts are “quite possible.”


Magnitude 4.1 Earthquake Rattles Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas

UNDATED (KPR) - The U.S. Geological Survey reported that shaking from a 4.1 magnitude earthquake was felt roughly 100 miles from the quake's epicenter. An earthquake struck west of Shattuck, Oklahoma, Tuesday afternoon but the shaking was felt by residents in neighboring Kansas and Texas. There were no immediate reports of damage in the small town of 1,300, roughly 150 miles northwest of Oklahoma City. NBC news reports(link is external) that from 2014 to 2017, Oklahoma had more magnitude 3 and larger quakes than famously earthquake-prone California.  


Double Homicide Suspect and Another Inmate Escape from Southeast Kansas Jail

COLUMBUS, Kan. (AP) - Authorities are searching for two inmates who escaped for a southeast Kansas jail. One of the inmates, Mark Gerald Hopkins II, has been charged with killing two people in rural Cherokee County in June 2020. The other inmate, Michael Wayne Martsolf, was being held on drug-related crimes. The Cherokee County Sheriff's office says the men escaped Monday night but did not provide any details about they escaped. Hopkins was facing a capital murder charge in the deaths of 27-year-old Blaze Swank, of rural Scammon and 20-year-old Kylan Shook, of Pittsburg. Both escapees have extensive tattoos and could be in a white 2008 Honda Accord with Missouri tag LG2X0F.


Tornado Hits Northwest Kansas Town; No Serious Injuries

SELDEN, Kan. (AP) _ A tornado caused property damage, but no serious injuries, in the northwest Kansas town of Selden as strong storms slammed the area. The National Weather Service says the tornado hit around 6:30 Monday night. The Sheridan County Sheriff's office says the tornado tore off roofs, crumbled the stone and brick walls of downtown buildings, uprooted trees and crumpled at least one farm silo. A power failure kept tornado sirens from warning citizens, so local officials drove up and down the streets to raise the alarm. One firefighter suffered minor injuries when a utility pole crashed into the back window of his truck. Sheridan County authorities say 38 properties in and around the town suffered major damage from the storm. Selden is about 30 miles northeast of Colby.


UPDATED: Kansas COVID-19 Case Count Approaching 314,000; Death Toll Rises to 5,067

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) reports today (WED) that there have been 313,720 COVID-19 cases in Kansas, including 5,067 virus-related deaths, since the pandemic began. That's an increase of 446 cases and nine deaths since Monday. Another update on case numbers is expected Friday.


Judge Re-Sentences Convicted Murderer Gonzales-McLinn, Cutting Original Sentence in Half

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) - Douglas County District Court Judge Amy Hanley has approved a settlement in a case filed by convicted murderer Sarah Gonzales-McLinn that cuts her prison sentence in half. Judge Hanley re-sentenced Gonzales-McLinn to a "hard 25" years in state prison. Gonzales-McLinn was convicted in 2015 of first-degree murder in the 2014 killing of local business owner Harold “Hal” Sasko. Originally, Gonzales-McLinn received a “hard 50” sentence. Douglas County District Attorney Suzanne Valdez announced the settlement Tuesday. Before trial, then-District Attorney Charles Branson offered Gonzales-McLinn’s attorney Carl Cornwell a plea deal in which the State would agree not to seek a “hard 50” sentence if Gonzales-McLinn pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and did not seek a departure sentence. The defendant ultimately rejected the offer and the case proceeded to a jury trial. In 2019, Gonzales-McLinn filed a petition in hopes of getting a reduction in her sentence. She argued through post-conviction counsel Jonathan Sternberg that she was entitled to a new trial for five reasons. Judge Hanley summarily denied three of those reasons but heard evidence and argument on her two remaining claims. The first claim was that Gonzales-McLinn’s trial counsel was ineffective. The second claim was that her trial counsel was ineffective for pursuing a defense of mental disease or defect rather than arguing battered women’s syndrome as a defense. The State opposed both of these claims. While these claims were pending, Valdez and Sternberg negotiated the settlement. Under the deal, prosecutors conceded that Gonzales-McLinn’s trial counsel was ineffective for failing to adequately advise her about the hard 25 plea offer. In exchange, Gonzales-McLinn dropped her remaining claim. The parties stipulated that the appropriate relief for this claim was to re-sentence Gonzales-McLinn as though she had accepted the initial plea offer. “This new sentence," Valdez said, "represents the offer Ms. Gonzales-McLinn would have accepted had she had effective trial counsel. She now will be eligible for parole at age 45, instead of 70.”


Carr Brothers' Wichita Murder Case Under Review Again

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Two brothers who were sentenced to die in 2002 for four killings known as "the Wichita massacre" are back before the Kansas Supreme Court. The Wichita Eagle reports that the court heard arguments Monday from attorneys in the cases of Jonathan and Reginald Carr. Their attorneys continued to argue that their death sentences should be overturned because the two brothers had a joint hearing on their punishments. The Kansas court upheld their convictions in 2014 but overturned their death sentences. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed that decision in 2016. The brothers were sentenced to die over a December 2000 home invasion that ended with the execution-style shootings of four victims. In all, the Carr brothers killed five people and a dog in Wichita. One of their victims, shot on a snow-covered soccer field, escaped. The woman, known as HG, survived a gunshot wound to the head when a bullet was deflected by a barrette in her hair. She ran naked through the snow and freezing temperatures for nearly a mile and climbed over a barbed wire fence until she came upon a residence, where a couple took her inside and called police. 


Deputy: Student Says Kansas Lawmaker Kicked Him in Testicles

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A deputy says a high school student told him that a Kansas House member kicked him in the testicles while the lawmaker was working as a substitute teacher last month. The deputy's affidavit was released to reporters today (TUE). It says Republican state Rep. Mark Samsel of Wellsville acknowledged the day after the April 28 incident at Wellsville High School that he had "demonstrated a kick" for an unruly student. Samsel told the deputy he did not kick the student. Samsel faces three misdemeanor battery charges and is accused of rude, insulting or angry contact with two students and of causing bodily harm to one of them.


Ex-School Resource Officer Sentenced to Life in Prison for Child Sex Crimes

NORTON, Kan. (AP) _ A former school resource officer in Kansas City, Kansas, has been sentenced to life in prison for repeatedly raping and abusing a child younger than 14. The Kansas Attorney General's Office says in a news release that 32-year-old Mark Scheetz was sentenced Tuesday in Norton County District Court after a jury in April found him guilty of two counts of aggravated criminal sodomy with a child younger than 14, two counts of rape, sexual exploitation of a child and intimidating a witness. Scheetz's was sentenced under Jessica's Law, which calls for harsh sentences for people convicted of sex crimes involving young children. He must serve 50 years before he's eligible for parole. 


KCK Police: One Man Killed, One Injured in Double Shooting

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Police in Kansas City, Kansas, are investigating a double shooting that left one man dead and another man critically injured. Police say the shooting happened Tuesday afternoon in a residential area a couple of blocks north of Silver City Park. Police were called to the area by a person who reported hearing gunshots, and arriving officers found two men outside a home suffering from gunshot wounds. Police say one man died at the scene. The other man was taken to a hospital with life-threatening injuries, but was later listed in stable condition. Police had not released the names of the men or reported any arrests in the shooting by Wednesday morning. 


Man Gets Prison for Fatally Throwing Man from Truck on I-435

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ A Kansas City man has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for intentionally swerving on Interstate 435 and fatally throwing a man from the back of his pickup truck in 2019. The Kansas City Star reports that 22-year-old Skylar Waddell was sentenced Tuesday to 12 years on a manslaughter conviction and three more years for leaving the scene of a crash. Authorities say the incident happened in November 2019, when 48-year-old Steve Norris found Waddell stealing items from Norris' disabled truck on the side of I-435. Police say Norris jumped on the back of Waddell's truck as Waddell sped away, and Waddell reacted by violently swerving and crashing, sending Norris flying into the southbound lanes of the interstate. 


Four Suspects Arrested After Man Shot to Death in Wichita

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Wichita police say four people are under arrest after the shooting death of a 22-year-old man. Police Captain Jason Stephens said Jose Covarrubias died after being shot late Monday at an apartment complex. He said investigators learned four suspects met Covarrubias for a drug deal. A fight broke out and one of the suspects fired at the victim. Authorities say 22-year-old Luis Martinez, 18-year-old Nicholas Olmos and 20-year-old Jaylon Pete were booked Tuesday on a possible charge of first-degree murder in commission of a felony. A 16-year-old suspect was also arrested.


Northwest Kansas Man Sentenced to More than 43 Years in Prison for Murder, Kidnapping

NORTON, Kan. (KPR) - A northwest Kansas man has been sentenced to more than 43 years in prison for convictions of second-degree murder and kidnapping. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt says 44-year-old Damien Shields, of Norton, was sentenced Tuesday for second-degree murder and kidnapping in the death of his wife, 38-year-old Lori Shields. The crimes took place in April 2019 at a residence in Norton County. The day after his wife was killed, police found Damien Shields in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, suffering from a self-inflicted injuries. Shields pleaded guilty to the charges in February.  


Lenexa Police: Man Killed in Shootout with Officers at Hotel

LENEXA, Kan. (AP) - Police in Lenexa say a man has been killed in an early-morning shootout with officers at a local hotel. Police say the shooting happened shortly after 5:00 am Tuesday, when officers were called to the Extended Stay America hotel for reports of a man and woman arguing loudly in one of the rooms. Police say arriving officers went to the room to question the people inside when gunfire erupted. Police say a man fired at the officers, who also fired their weapons at the man. Police say the man was later declared dead at the scene. The officers were not injured. Police have not released the names of the man killed or the officers involved.  


Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners Considers Lawsuit over Change in Police Funding

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - The state-controlled board that oversees Kansas City's police department has voted to initiate legal action over city leaders' decision to change how some of the department's budget gets spent. Minutes posted on the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners website said board members voted Monday in a closed meeting to authorize a potential lawsuit to enforce their authority over the police department. The vote was in response to two ordinances passed last week by the city council that would reallocate about $42 million of the department's budget for social services to help address root causes of the city's violent crime. Opponents charge the change is a roundabout way to "defund" the police department.  


Kansas Woman Alleging College Dorm Rape Convenes Citizen Grand Jury

MISSION, Kan. (AP) - A central Kansas woman who alleges consensual sex with a friend in his college dorm room turned into a terrifying sexual assault took matters into her own hands when prosecutors declined to file a rape charge. Twenty-two-year-old Madison Smith called a citizen grand jury, relying on a 134-year-old Kansas state law. Smith collected hundreds of signatures to call the grand jury to bring more serious charges against Jared Stolzenburg, her classmate at Bethany College in Lindsborg. Smith said she felt the citizen grand jury was her only option to get justice for the attack. McPherson County Attorney Gregory Benefiel says he he did not file more serious charges against Stolzenburg because Smith didn't verbally withdraw her consent to have sex. Smith says she couldn't say anything at all because Stolzenburg was choking and strangling her. He pleaded guilty to aggravated battery and received two years' probation. Kansas is one of six states that allow citizens to petition for grand juries. 


Pork Group Asks USDA to Support Faster Slaughterhouse Speeds

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A trade group for port producers is asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to appeal a recent federal judge's order that struck down a federal rule allowing pork processing plants to speed up processing. The National Pork Producers Council says that a Minnesota judge's ruling in March ordering a return to slower processing line speeds will cost farmers $80 million in reduced income. Meatpacking worker unions challenged the faster speeds, saying they put workers' health and safety at risk. The pork producers group is asking the USDA to appeal the ruling and seek a stay so six plants now operating at faster speeds may continue under the new rules finalized by former President Donald Trump's administration in 2019.


Kansas City Receives $8.3 Million in Federal Aid to Help Homeless

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Officials said Saturday that the city of Kansas City, Missouri, will receive more than $8 million in federal money to address issues related to homelessness. Some of the money will help pay for 140 beds in the tiny homes village initiative. That program, which was announced last month, will provide transitional housing and other services to people experiencing homelessness. Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said the city has made progress in addressing housing needs but more work needs to be done. Officials said the federal money will provide a significant boost to those efforts. 


USDA to Begin Paying Off Loans of Minority Farmers

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) — Minority farmers who for decades have faced systemic discrimination will begin to receive debt relief beginning in early June under what Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack calls one of the most significant pieces of civil rights legislation in decades. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency HAS announced that it has published the first notice of funding availability under the American Rescue Plan Act for borrowers with qualifying direct farm loans. A subsequent notice for farmers with government-guaranteed loans held by private lenders will be published within 120 days. Vilsack has called the debt relief a “major civil rights victory,” saying it responds to systemic discrimination perpetrated against farmers and ranchers of color by the Agriculture Department.

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