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Headlines for Tuesday, May 25, 2021

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 last (MON) 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.

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Kansas Lawmakers Meet Wednesday for One More Day in 2021 Session

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - The Kansas Legislature’s session will officially end Wednesday 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.”

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4 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.

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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.

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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 today (TUE) for second-degree murder and kidnapping in the death of his wife, 38-year-old Lori Shields. Shields pleaded guilty to the charges in February. The crimes took place in April 2019 at a residence in Norton County. The case was investigated by the Norton Police Department, Norton County Sheriff’s Office, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and other agencies.

(AP version)

Norton Man Sentenced for Death of His Wife in 2019

NORTON, Kan. (AP) _ A 44-year-old Norton man has been sentenced to more than 43 years in prison for killing his wife in 2019. Damien Shields was sentenced today (TUE) for second-degree murder and kidnapping in the death of 38-year-old Lori Shields in April 2019 at a home in Norton County. Damien Shields pleaded guilty to the charges in February. The day after his wife was killed, police found Damien Shields in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, suffering from a self-inflicted injuries. Smith was convicted of domestic violence in 2010.

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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 today (TUE). 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 this 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.”

(AP version)

Woman's Life Sentenced Reduced in Lawrence Homicide

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - A woman sentenced to life in prison for the killing of a Lawrence man in 2014 has had her sentence cut in half. Sarah Gonzales-McLinn had been sentenced to 50 years in prison without the possibility of parole for the death of 52-year-old Harold Sasko. Today (TUE), a Douglas County judge agreed to a recommendation from prosecutors and her defense attorney that she be resentenced to allow for parole after 25 years. The agreement acknowledged that Gonzales-McLinn received ineffective counsel during her 2015 trial. Sasko and Gonzales-McLinn were living together when he was killed. Prosecutors say Sasko was drugged and bound and nearly decapitated. Gonzales-McLinn supporters suggested Sasko was abusing her at the time.

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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. 

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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 a.m. 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.  

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Coroner: Body of Missing 12-Year-Old Kansas City Boy Found in Indiana River

HAMMOND, Ind. — According to a report from ABC 7 in Chicago, the Lake County Indiana Coroner has confirmed the body of a Kansas City 12-year-old boy who wandered away from a hotel has been found in the Little Calumet River. The Hammond Police Department says a volunteer kayaker found a body just after 8:15 p.m. Monday near the area where Kyrin Carter went missing on May 15. The coroner confirmed the body recovered was Carter, who is from Kansas City. Police said they recovered the body about 300 feet west of where he went missing. His manner of death was pending, according to the coroner. Carter, who has autism, walked away from a Best Western Hotel in Hammond on May 15. Police say extensive efforts were used to search for Carter, including ATVs, boats, helicopters and drones.

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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.  

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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. 

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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.

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Overland Park Police Investigate Shooting Death Near City Hall

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Police in Overland Park are investigating the shooting death of a man early Monday in the parking lot of a condominium building across the street from City Hall. Police say officers were called to the area around 5:20 am for reports of gunshots. Arriving officers found a man on the ground who had been shot and was already dead. He was identified as 35-year-old Jeren Hinton of Overland Park. Witnesses tell police that they saw two to three people run to vehicles in the parking lot following the shooting and flee the area.

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Garden City Police Investigate Man's Shooting Death

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) _ Garden City police are investigating the shooting death of a 33-year-old man. Police say officers responding to a call late Monday found Eraclio Hernandez Jr. sitting in a street after he was shot. He died later at a hospital. Police say the investigation is continuing. They have not released any other information.

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KSU President Myers Announces Retirement

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) - Kansas State University President Richard Myers says he plans to retire. Myers announced Monday that he will retire at the end of 2021. He has been president of the university since 2016. Myers graduated from KSU in 1965 with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and joined the air Force through Kansas State's ROTC program. He became a four-star general and was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff before his appointment at Kansas State. A statement released by the university did not include a reason for Myers' retirement. The Kansas Board of Regents will announce details on the search to replace Myers at a later date.

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Wichita Woman Convicted in 2-Year-Old Son's Methadone Overdose Death

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A jury has convicted a 25-year-old Wichita woman of first-degree felony murder after her 2-year-old son died from ingesting methadone. A Sedgwick County jury deliberated for about two hours Monday before finding Kimberly Compass guilty in the death of her son, Zayden JayNesahkluah. Zayden died of a methadone overdose in a Wichita motel on May 31, 2019. Prosecutors accused Compass of mishandling three bottles of methadone, which had been prescribed to help her kick a heroin habit. It remains unclear exactly how the boy got ahold of the methadone. Her defense attorney argued throughout the trial that Compass didn't know the boy ingested the drug. She will be sentenced August 12. 
  
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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.

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Missouri Governor Appoints First Black Woman to State Supreme Court

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri Governor Mike Parson has appointed the first Black woman to serve as a Missouri Supreme Court judge. On Monday. Parson named Missouri Eastern District Appeals Court Judge Robin Ransom to the high court. She's replacing Judge Laura Denvir Stith, who retired in March. Ransom will join Chief Justice George Draper as the second Black judge currently serving on the Missouri Supreme Court. The appointment does not require Senate confirmation. 

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Missouri Killer Seeking Firing Squad Loses U.S. Supreme Court Appeal

WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal from a Missouri death row inmate who is seeking execution by firing squad. Over the dissent of the three liberal justices, the court on Monday left in place a lower court ruling against inmate Ernest Johnson that could allow him to be executed by lethal injection. He is on death row for killing three convenience store workers in Columbia, Missouri, in 1994. Johnson has argued that Missouri's lethal injection drug, pentobarbital, could trigger seizures because of a brain condition. The effect of the court's order is to prevent Johnson from amending his lawsuit to include the possibility of execution by firing squad, which is not authorized under Missouri law. 

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Man Pleads Guilty to Shooting Death of KC Rapper

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A 32-year-old man was sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to killing a Kansas City rapper. Derius Taylor pleaded guilty Monday to second-degree murder and armed criminal action in the death of 20-year-old Dominque Stafford. Police found Stafford's body inside a car in eastern Kansas City in April2015. Charging documents say Taylor had arranged to buy drugs from Stafford but planned to rob him instead. Investigators said Taylor got into Stafford's car, shot him, and took a rifle and a diamond-encrusted pendant that Stafford often wore. Detectives later learned Taylor had pawned the pendant at a local pawn shop.

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Kansas Ranchers Struggle to Find Veterinarians for Rural Livestock Operations

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Officials concerned about the lack of veterinarians for the Kansas livestock industry are asking ranchers to help them address the issue. A task force comprised of state, livestock industry and university officials is starting the effort with a survey. The group hopes ranchers will respond to the online survey to help determine which parts of Kansas are most lacking in veterinarian care. Cattle ranching and related industries contribute an estimated $8.7 billion to the state's economy. Deputy Kansas Agriculture Secretary Kelsey Olson says rural areas have a hard time attracting veterinarians because many veterinary students want to work in cities and treat smaller animals. (Read more.) 

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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. 

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Federal Pandemic Relief Boosts 2020 Farm Incomes

HAYS, Kan. (KNS) —The pandemic made 2020 a volatile year for agriculture, the top industry in Kansas. But with help from federal COVID relief payments and higher grain prices, the state’s farmers still came out ahead. New statistics from about 900 Kansas farms show that average net incomes were nearly $170,000 in 2020, a 54% increase over the previous year. But much of that income came from the federal government, mostly from pandemic relief and agricultural subsidies. The Kansas Farm Management Association compiled the data. The association’s director, Kevin Herbel says it illustrates how critical COVID relief was for area farmers, especially those with lower incomes. “If we were to take the COVID payments out,” Herbel said, “a third of the farms, would have had a negative net income for the year.” When all government assistance money is subtracted, farm incomes still doubled, thanks largely to the highest prices for corn and wheat since 2013. 

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Kansas COVID-19 Case Count Exceeds 313,000; Death Toll Rises to 5,058

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) — The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) reported Monday that there have been 313,274 COVID-19 cases in Kansas, including 5,058 virus-related deaths, since the pandemic began. That's an increase of 277 cases and one death since Friday.  Another update on case numbers is expected Wednesday.

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Report: Vaccine Disparities Persist in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) -  COVID-19 vaccinations continue to lag in Black and Hispanic communities across Kansas, according to a new report. About one third of white people in Kansas have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine but only 25 percent of Black residents have gotten a shot, and only 30 percent of Hispanics. This is according to a new analysis by Kaiser Health News. The findings echo a continued racial disparity nationwide, despite targeted efforts to improve vaccination rates among minority groups. Kansas Governor Laura Kelly recently launched a Vaccine Equity Task Force. The group is charged with addressing challenges such as language barriers and transportation, which could limit access to vaccines. The Kaiser report showed higher vaccination rates among Native Americans in Kansas, where about 40 percent have gotten at least one shot.

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Pandemic Motivates Students to Consider Medical Careers 

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) —The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired more students to consider careers in health care. Medical school applications are up 18% over last year, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Kansas State University recently launched the region’s first Bachelor of Science in Public Health degree program to prepare people for jobs such as epidemiologist or health educator. Enrollment in high school medical programs is up too. Gracie Dean will graduate from Maize South High School near Wichita this month, but she’s already working as a Certified Nursing Assistant at a long-term care facility. Dean says she decided to pursue a career in health care because of what she has witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Because these nurses have put their lives on the line to help people, and that’s just what I aspire to be” Dean said. The trend mirrors one after September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks when higher numbers of students joined the military or became first responders.

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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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