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Headlines for Friday, November 10, 2017

Here's what's happening.

Kansas Senate Leader Suggests State Supreme Court Helps Democrats 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The leader of the Kansas Senate says the state Supreme Court timed a recent decision on school finance to help Democrats elect a governor. Republican Susan Wagle on Friday denounced the court's October ruling that found the state's school funding formula is unconstitutional. The justices ordered the Legislature to show how it plans to respond by April 30. Wagle says the justices want to elect a Democratic governor in order to have more Democrats appointed to the court. The Wichita Eagle reports Wagle also says Kansas is headed toward a constitutional crisis over education funding. She suggested considering an amendment to the Kansas Constitution to remove a requirement that the Legislature provide "suitable" provision for school funding. A court spokeswoman told the Eagle justices don't comment on pending cases.

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Lawrence Man Sentenced to Life for Molesting Girl for Years

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A Lawrence man who molested a girl for more than two years has been sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for at least 25 years.  Thirty-five-year-old James Fletcher was sentenced Thursday for five counts of aggravated indecent liberties with a child. Prosecutors said he repeatedly fondled the girl's breasts, starting when she was 11.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports about 30 people who supported Fletcher attended the sentencing. His attorneys had filed nearly 30 letters backing Fletcher, who had no previous criminal record.  The judge said the community support was admirable but was not sufficient reason to depart from sentencing guidelines mandating life in prison for the crimes.  Fletcher's attorney, Sarah Swain, said she planned to immediately appeal the sentence.

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Kansas Prosecutor Wants Help Investigating Former Detective

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas prosecutor has asked for help in investigating a retired white police detective accused of preying on black women for sex over decades and pursuing the wrongful murder conviction of the son of one of the women.  Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree said this week that he is also establishing early next year a conviction integrity unit within his office to identify false convictions.  Dupree is the first black elected district attorney in Kansas.  He requested assistance from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the bureau says "discussions are currently occurring on how best to proceed."  Dupree shocked those attending an October 13 hearing in saying there had been "manifest injustice" in the conviction of Lamonte McIntyre for a 1994 double murder when he was a teenager.

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Lawrence Can Release Contaminated Water into Kansas River 

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The city of Lawrence will be allowed to release millions of gallons of nitrogen-contaminated water into the Kansas River. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment authorized the city to release the water from the former Farmland fertilizer plant during the next several months, under certain conditions. Agency officials say they don't expect the water to have any impact because the nitrogen will be heavily diluted. The Lawrence Journal-World reports the city is authorized to release up to 30 million gallons of nitrogen-contaminated water from now until April 1. It can't release more than 500,000 gallons per day, and the discharge is allowed only when the river flow is more than 1,000 cubic feet per second. The discharge is necessary because storage tanks at the plant site are at capacity.

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Kansas Lawmakers Question Effects of Welfare Reduction

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Some Kansas lawmakers are questioning the impact of recent welfare policies after new data showed a growing number of people ineligible for cash assistance.  The Lawrence Journal-World reports the Legislative Budget Committee was briefed this week on the new consensus revenue estimates, as well as new estimates about the cost of social services like Medicaid, foster care and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).  The numbers from the Department for Children and Families estimate that nearly 44,000 people have become ineligible for TANF under those policies.  Several committee members say thousands have been coming off TANF each year since 2013 while the number of foster care children has been climbing.  Some lawmakers think the two trends are linked. A Republican lawmaker believes critics are jumping to conclusions.

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Police Release Reports Related to Shooting of Topeka Man

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Two days after a newspaper story questioned why police hadn't compiled a report on the fatal shooting of a black man by Topeka officers six weeks ago, they released two records.  Lawrence police released a one-page report Thursday showing they were assisting Topeka police on the September 28 incident. A spokeswoman said the report was compiled after a substantial review.  Topeka police released a one-page report on shots being fired near an east Topeka park before two officers shot 30-year-old Dominique White. No information about the officers has been released.  A city spokeswoman said Topeka police inadvertently forgot to compile their report.  Neither report had details about White's shooting.  One-page incident reports are typically completed within 72 hours.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reported Tuesday on the lack of a report.

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Not Guilty Plea Entered for Kansas Triple Homicide Suspect

NEWTON, Kan. (AP) — A man charged with killing three people in Kansas has pleaded not guilty.  KFDI Radio in Wichita reports the plea was entered Thursday for 36-year-old Jereme Nelson during a Harvey County Court hearing.  He is facing one count of capital murder and three counts of first-degree murder.  Nelson is one of two people accused of killing 33-year-old Travis Street, 37-year-old Angela Graevs, and 52-year-old Richard Prouty at a rural home in Harvey County in October 2016. An 18-month-old child was found unharmed.  The other suspect, 32-year-old Myrta Rangel, is charged in federal court with providing Nelson with the weapon that prosecutors say was used in the killings.  Nelson's next court appearance is scheduled for February 12.  Nelson and Rangel fled to Mexico after the deaths but were extradited back to Kansas in January.

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Man Sentenced to Life in Shooting Outside Kansas Bar

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A man has been sentenced to life in prison in a fatal shooting during a botched robbery outside a Kansas City, Kansas, bar.  The Kansas City Star reports that 20-year-old Filiberto Espinoza Jr. won't be eligible for parole for 25 years under the sentence ordered Thursday for first-degree felony murder.  Prosecutors allege that Espinoza and co-defendant Efrain Gonzalez confronted 29-year-old Louis Scherzer in November 2016 and that Scherzer was shot in the back when he turned to get away.  Scherzer was a union steward who worked for the Board of Public Utilities in Wyandotte County. His fiancee, Ellie Long, was among the family and friends gathered inside the bar at the time of the shooting. She said the crime "stole my future."  The case against Gonzalez is pending.

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U.S. Senate Panel Endorses Prosecutor for Federal Judgeship in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has endorsed a prosecutor's nomination for a federal judgeship in Kansas.  The committee's vote Thursday was 19-1 on President Donald Trump's nomination of Holly Lou Teeter of Lenexa. The 38-year-old Teeter is an assistant U.S. attorney for western Missouri and previously clerked for two federal judges in the Kansas City area.  The committee's action sends Teeter's nomination to the full Senate.  The vote came two days after an American Bar Association committee rated Teeter as "not qualified." An ABA publication said its committee generally believes a nominee should have at least 12 years of legal experience. Teeter has 11.5 years of experience.  Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut called the standard "arbitrary." The only no vote came from Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.

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GOP Candidate for Kansas Governor Wants to Restore Ban Against Gay Discrimination

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A Republican candidate for Kansas governor supports restoring a ban on discrimination against gays and lesbians in state employment and hiring.  Former state Senator Jim Barnett said Thursday that as governor, he would make it clear "there will not be discrimination."  In 2015, Republican Governor Sam Brownback rescinded a 2007 executive order from former Democratic Governor Kathleen Sebelius barring discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in state hiring and employment decisions. Asked during a news conference about restoring such a policy, Barnett said: "I support that."  Brownback opposed gay marriage. He said in 2015 that the GOP-controlled Legislature should have been involved in setting the anti-discrimination policy.  Democrats in the U.S. Senate have made Brownback's action an issue as the term-limited governor seeks confirmation for an ambassador's post.

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Kansas Supreme Court Divided over Offender Registration Law

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Supreme Court is divided over whether a law requiring criminal offenders to register with local authorities after prison represents extra punishment.  A 4-3 majority has concluded that registration for sex, drug and violent offenders is not extra punishment. Its latest decision came yesterday (THUR) in the appeal of Djuan Richardson.  He was convicted of selling cocaine in Sedgwick County in 2003 and pleaded guilty to violating the offender registration law in 2011. He later sought unsuccessfully to withdraw that plea.  Registration for drug offenders was mandated after Richardson's first conviction. He argued it was unconstitutional to apply the requirement to him.  But in a series of rulings starting last year, the court's majority has said offender registration is not punishment but a regulatory scheme that can be applied retroactively.

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Police: Suspect's Overwhelming Flatulence Shuts Down Interrogation

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A police interrogation of a Kansas City man charged with drug and gun offenses ended prematurely when an investigator was driven from the room by the suspect's excessive flatulence.  A detective reported that when asked for his address, 24-year-old Sean Sykes Jr. "leaned to one side of his chair and released a loud fart before answering."  The Kansas City Star reports that Sykes "continued to be flatulent" and the detective was forced to quickly end the interview.  Sykes appeared in court Monday, charged with being a felon in possession of three firearms and possession with intent to sell cocaine. The charges stem from police traffic stops this month and in September in Kansas City, Missouri.  The federal public defender's office hasn't responded to an Associated Press email seeking comment Friday.

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Lawrence Man Sentenced to Life for Molesting Girl for Years

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A Lawrence man who molested a girl for more than two years has been sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for at least 25 years. Thirty-five-year-old James Fletcher was sentenced Thursday for five counts of aggravated indecent liberties with a child. Prosecutors said he repeatedly fondled the girl's breasts, starting when she was 11. The Lawrence Journal-World reports about 30 people who supported Fletcher attended the sentencing. His attorneys had filed nearly 30 letters backing Fletcher, who had no previous criminal record. The judge said the community support was admirable but was not sufficient reason to depart from sentencing guidelines mandating life in prison for the crimes. Fletcher's attorney, Sarah Swain, said she planned to immediately appeal the sentence.

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Kansas Man Sentenced to Life Term for Sex Crime

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A man accused of sexually assaulting a young girl in Kansas has been given a sentence. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that 42-year-old Zebulin Richard Barron was sentenced Wednesday on charges of aggravated indecent liberties with a child under the age of 14. He'll spend 25 years in state prison before becoming eligible for parole. The sexual assaults occurred between 2012 and 2014. The victim was 6 years old when the abuse began. The victim's mother wrote an impact statement saying the abuse has left lasting trauma on their family. Two others testified during hearings last year that Barron had sexually assaulted them. One woman was in her late 20s and the other was a 7-year-old girl. Barron will also be required to register as a sex offender.

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Homeland Security to Test Chemicals Near Kansas Border

ARKANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — The Department of Homeland Security is planning to conduct chemical and biological tests near the border between Kansas and Oklahoma. The Wichita Eagle reports that department officials plan to execute a "low level outdoor release" of inert chemical and biological simulant materials at the old Chilocco Indian School in January and again in June. The campus is in Oklahoma, just 6 miles (9.6 kilometers) south of Arkansas City, Kansas. The department says the test is to determine how protected people would be when staying inside if biological agents are used in a terror attack. Republican U.S. Rep. Ron Estes of Kansas said Thursday he has "numerous questions" about the tests. He says federal agencies "need to be 100 percent certain this test is safe for the residents of south-central Kansas."

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1 Man Wore a Bunny Mask in This Bakery Robbery

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a man wearing a white bunny mask and another man whose face was covered with a bandanna are accused of stealing about $600 from a Wichita bakery. Wichita police Officer Charley Davidson says the men fled on foot Wednesday after robbing Kneaders Bakery & Cafe. The Wichita Eagle reports that both men are thought to be about 25 years old. Each man also wore a black jacket and gloves. Anyone with information is urged to call police.

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Priest Removed from Parish After Hiking Trip with Children

CONWAY SPRINGS, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas priest who took a hiking trip with children and no other adults has been removed from the pulpit, although no abuse has been alleged. The Wichita Eagle reports that the Diocese of Wichita described what happened in a letter to parishioners Thursday. It says the priest was removed from ministry at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Conway Springs after an Oct. 9 hiking trip. Conway Springs is about 25 miles northwest of Wichita. The letter says there were no allegations of abuse and that "no harm was done to the children." Being alone with a minor goes against behavioral boundaries set by the diocese. A statement announcing the priest's leave was read at each of the Masses at St. Joseph Catholic Church on the weekend of October 14-15.

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KCK Company Sanctioned for Offering Male Employee Higher Wage than Female

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) - The corporate owner of Pizza Studio restaurant that offered a higher wage to a 17-year-old Kansas male than to a female of the same age has been ordered to give the two back pay and implement policies to prevent it happening again.  In September, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued PS Holding LLC, which used to own the Pizza Studio restaurant in Kansas City, Kansas. Jensen Walcott and Jake Reed applied for the same work there in 2016. When Walcott complained after learning that Reed would be paid 25 cents an hour more, the manager withdrew the job offers.  A federal judge on Thursday ordered PS Holding to pay them $2,500 each in back pay and other compensation.  The case drew national attention, including former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

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1 Man Wore Bunny Mask in Robbery of Bakery

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Authorities say a man wearing a white bunny mask and another man whose face was covered with a bandanna are accused of stealing about $600 from a Wichita bakery.  Wichita police Officer Charley Davidson says the men fled on foot Wednesday after robbing Kneaders Bakery & Cafe. The Wichita Eagle reports that both men are thought to be about 25 years old. Each man also wore a black jacket and gloves.  Anyone with information is urged to call police.

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Priest Removed from Parish After Hiking Trip with Children

CONWAY SPRINGS, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas priest who took a hiking trip with children and no other adults has been removed from the pulpit, although no abuse has been alleged.  The Wichita Eagle reports that the Diocese of Wichita described what happened in a letter to parishioners Thursday. It says the priest was removed from ministry at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Conway Springs after an October 9 hiking trip. Conway Springs is about 25 miles northwest of Wichita.  The letter says there were no allegations of abuse and that "no harm was done to the children." Being alone with a minor goes against behavioral boundaries set by the diocese.  A statement announcing the priest's leave was read at each of the Masses at St. Joseph Catholic Church on the weekend of October 14-15.

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Report: Record Crops of Corn, Soybeans Forecast in Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A new government forecast says Kansas is on track to harvest record crops of corn and soybeans.  That's according to National Agricultural Statistics Service, which issued its latest report yesterday (THUR).  Kansas may also bring in a record cotton harvest of 185,000 bales.  The report says the state's corn crop is forecast at 707 million bushels, up 1 percent from last year's production.  The increase is due mostly to the fact that the state is harvesting corn off 5.2 million acres, or about 6 percent more acres than a year ago. The added acreage helps offset lower anticipated average yields of 136 bushels per acre.  Kansas growers are also forecast to bring in a record 204 million bushels of soybeans, up 6 percent from last year.  Sorghum production is forecast to be down 30 percent with 189 million bushels.

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