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Headlines for Friday, December 12, 2014


Report: Kansas Budget Plan Pushes Shortfall Forward

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A new report from the Kansas Legislature's nonpartisan research staff shows that Governor Sam Brownback's plan for closing a shortfall in the current budget mostly pushes the problem into the next fiscal year. The researchers released new budget projections Thursday for the Legislative Budget Committee, a panel of lawmakers from both chambers. It shows that Brownback's plan eliminates a projected $279 million deficit for the current fiscal year. But it also shows that under his plan, a projected $436 million gap for the fiscal year beginning in July grows to $648 million. State Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley say it’s cause for concern. "Sam Brownback has caused such a mess here. " Hensley said.  "It's very difficult to predict how we're going to be able to work ourselves out of this."  Brownback proposes curing much of the current shortfall in the state's main bank account by diverting funds from other accounts to it for general government programs. Those funds aren't included in the next fiscal year.


Kansas Begins Issuing Gender-Neutral Marriage Forms


TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Kansas has started issuing gender-neutral marriage forms amid ongoing litigation over its same-sex marriage ban.  Copies of the new forms were included in a motion that seeks to have former Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Robert Moser dismissed from the litigation.  The motion, which was filed Wednesday, notes that Moser has resigned and that new marriage forms delete all references to husbands and wives. Applicants seeking to wed now fill in information under the headings "Party A'' or "Party B.'' They can select whether they want to be referred to as a bride, groom or simply a spouse.  The forms were changed last month after the U.S. Supreme Court denied Kansas's request to prevent gay and lesbian couples from marrying while the state fights the issue in court. 


Brownback Fills Vacancy on Eastern Kansas Court

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Governor Sam Brownback has appointed a county prosecutor to a judgeship on a district court in eastern Kansas. Brownback announced Thursday that the new judge is Terri Johnson of Fort Scott. She is the Bourbon County attorney and also serves as the county's lawyer in civil-court matters. Brownback said her mix of legal experience makes her well-prepared to be a judge. Both he and the new judge are Republicans. She's filling a position on the bench in the 6th Judicial District of Bourbon, Linn and Miami counties that will become vacant when Chief Judge Richard Smith of Mound City retires next month. Smith recently sat with the Kansas Supreme Court as it reviewed a case involving Attorney General Derek Schmidt's attempt to defend the state's ban on gay marriage.


Records to Be Released in Fatal Rape Burning Case 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas judge has ruled that more information about a Wichita man charged in a sexual assault and fatal burning must be released to the media. The Associated Press, The Wichita Eagle and broadcasters KWCH, KAKE and KSN went to court Friday pursuing the probable cause affidavits in the case against Cornell McNeal. The 26-year-old is charged with one count of capital murder or an alternative count of first-degree murder in the death of Letitia "Tish" Davis. The mother of four suffered from burns on more than half her body and cuts on her head in the November 14 attack and died November 22. The defense argued the release of records could "endanger the life or physical safety" of McNeal because the prosecution could seek the death penalty.


Gorilla Briefly Slips from Cage at Topeka Zoo 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A gorilla was able to slip from her cage at a Kansas zoo after someone accidentally left a door open, but zoo officials say she never had access to public areas or vistors. The city of Topeka says in a news release the gorilla, Tiffany, made it into a service area off her exhibit around 9:10 am Friday. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that zoo employees quickly lured the primate back into her enclosure, but not before she spilled a cup of chalk and opened a cassette player. The gorilla was never harmed, and the zoo issued an all-clear at 9:30 am. The city says zoo management is investigating how the exhibit was left unsecured.


2 Hospitalized After Atchison Railcar Explosion

ATCHISON, Kan. (AP) - The two people most seriously injured in a railcar explosion in northeast Kansas are improving at a Kansas hospital. The men were among at least seven people hurt when the railcar exploded Thursday at GBW Rail Services west of Atchison. A spokesman for the University of Kansas Hospital said early Friday that the men's condition had been upgraded to fair. No one was killed. The Kansas State Fire Marshal's Office is investigating the cause of the accident. Atchison County Sheriff Jack Laurie says the rail car exploded inside a building. The 16 or 17 employees in the area were all accounted for after the explosion. GBW official Jack Isselman said the explosion happened in an area where rail car surfaces are prepared for painting.


Penalty Phase Gets Underway for Convicted Killer 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Jurors have returned to court to decide whether to recommend the death penalty or life without parole for a man convicted of kidnapping, raping and killing an 8-year-old Topeka girl. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the penalty phase of Billy Frank Davis Jr.'s capital murder trial got underway Friday in Shawnee County District Court. Jurors deliberated 17 hours before finding the 31-year-old Davis guilty Thursday of 10 counts, including capital murder. The body of Ahliyah Nachelle Irvin was found in a dryer in March 2012 after she disappeared from an apartment. Prosecution witness Joy Thomas testified Friday that the girl suffered the worst injuries that she had seen in 30 years of conducting sexual assault examinations. Jurors will hear Monday from a defense witness from Atlanta.


Atkins Diet Co-Author Sentenced to 41 Months 

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas obesity specialist who co-authored the "Atkins Diabetes Revolution" has been sentenced to three years and five months in federal prison for tax evasion. The U.S. attorney's office said Friday that 62-year-old Mary Vernon of Lawrence also was ordered Thursday to pay nearly $300,000 in restitution. Vernon was convicted earlier of five counts of tax evasion. The "Atkins Diabetes Revolution" was published in 2004, a year after the death of weight loss expert Dr. Robert Atkins. Prosecutors said she earned nearly $800,000 for services to Atkins's companies from 2003 to 2008. Vernon also practiced medicine in Lawrence and Shawnee, and served as a medical director for nursing homes. Later, she directed a southwest Kansas emergency room. Prosecutors said she evaded incomes taxes from 2004 to 2008.


Kansas Man Guilty of Stealing Dying Woman's Ring

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas jury has convicted one of three men accused of stealing a wedding ring and other items from a dying woman after she suffered a brain aneurysm at a Taco Bell drive-thru. The Kansas City Star reports the Sedgwick County jury on Thursday convicted 20-year-old Wichita resident Daquantrius S. Johnson of aggravated burglary, robbery and misdemeanor theft. The panel deliberated about three hours. Johnson faces a maximum prison term of more than 15 years when he is sentenced January 29.  Forty-three-year-old Danielle Zimmerman died December 30, one day after the fatal brain injury. She was unconscious and her pickup hit the drive-thru speaker box.  Another defendant was sentenced to 19 months in prison after pleading guilty to misdemeanor theft. A third still faces trial.


Tanker Spills Diesel Fuel in Wichita

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Sedgwick County authorities say diesel fuel has spilled from a semitrailer that crashed on a bridge. Wichita-Sedgwick County 911 dispatchers said Thursday night that the driver suffered minor injuries in the crash that left the tanker hanging off the Wichita bridge. Hazardous materials crews were sent to contain the spill. It's unclear how much fuel leaked. The cause of the crash is unclear, and it's unclear if there were other vehicles involved. The driver's identity hasn't been released. 


City, Topeka District Settle on School Officers

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ The city of Topeka and the school district have agreed on the number of city police officers that will work in the district's schools.  The city and district announced Thursday that 10 city police will work in the schools for the rest of this school year, then the number will drop to seven next year.  The city had a contract to provide four officers but had assigned 11 to the district. Chief James Brown said earlier this week he wanted to take some officers out of the schools and put them back on the streets. The new agreement calls for eliminating the truancy officer position this year.  School officials said they will study ways to expand the district's 12-person security force to provide security at its middle and high schools.  


No Mistrial for Suspect Accused of Hitting Lawyer 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A judge has refused to declare a mistrial for a Topeka rape suspect accused of punching his defense attorney in front of jurors. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Shawnee County District Judge Marc Braun also found 32-year-old Lance Franklin to be in contempt of court and sentenced him to 180 days in jail. Franklin's attorney, David McDonald, was knocked unconscious Thursday. McDonald told the newspaper in a text message that he never saw the punch coming. McDonald wasn't in court, but attorneys from his firm argued for a mistrial. The prosecution, however, argued the trial was going badly for Franklin and said he shouldn't be rewarded by getting a fresh start. Braun scheduled the trial to continue in February and allowed McDonald's firm to withdraw from the case.


Clerk's Response Sends Robber Away Empty-Handed 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Wichita store clerk's observation to a would-be robber sent the man running out of the business empty-handed. The Wichita Eagle reports a man carrying a gun and with a scarf over his face walked into the store around 10:15 pm Thursday. Police Lieutenant James Espinoza says the man demanded money, telling the clerk he had six children and needed the funds for them. Espinoza says the clerk responded by telling the man he shouldn't have had so many kids, and the suspect ran out of the store.


KCC, Gas Companies Collaborate on Replacement of Old Pipes 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas Corporation Commission and natural gas companies are working together to find a way to replace aging gas pipes in a less expensive way. Kansas natural gas companies currently add a fee, called the gas service reliability surcharge, to customers' bills to cover projects required by safety regulations or related public works projects. But the charge doesn't cover preventative work like replacing old cast iron and steel pipes before they break. Officials say that kind of work is cheaper and causes less disruption than an emergency pipe repair. Commissioner Pat Apple says that amending the GSRS to pay for pipe-replacement work requires legislative approval. But commissioners say they think they can set up a separate process without sending it to the Legislature.


Wichita Man Sentenced to 14 Years in Drunken Driving Crash


WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A 56-year-old Wichita man who had four previous drunken driving arrests before a crash that killed a passenger earlier this year has been sentenced to more than 14 years in prison. KWCH-TV reports Melvin Day was driving under the influence and with a suspended license when he crashed into a tree on March 5. Sedgwick County prosecutors say Day's blood alcohol was nearly 3 1/2 times the legal limit at the time of the crash, which killed 55-year-old Kevin Donn. Day pleaded guilty in October to an involuntary manslaughter charge. He was sentenced Friday to 172 months in prison.


Police: Woman Attacked, Beaten with Her Walker 

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Wichita police say a 78-year-old woman suffered a broken shoulder after she was knocked down and beaten with her walker by a man who was then found sleeping in her apartment. Lieutenant James Espinoza says the woman was leaving her apartment early Thursday when a stranger knocked her down and hit her with her walker as she was on the ground. The man then ransacked the woman's apartment. Espinoza says the woman, who is Vietnamese and doesn't speak English, got a neighbor to call 911. Responding officers found a 28-year-old man asleep inside her apartment and arrested him. Espinoza says alcohol appeared to be a factor in the case. The woman told police she didn't know the suspect. Nothing appeared to be missing from the woman's home.


Business Leaders Ask Officials to Spare Fort Leavenworth in Upcoming Round of Cuts 

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (AP) — Several civic and business leaders in Leavenworth are asking Army officials to spare the community from thousands of potential job cuts. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the military is considering where to make reductions required by law. Federal officials must cut the Army from 490,000 to 450,000 people by 2020. A commission has already announced a potential loss of 2,500 personnel at Fort Leavenworth. An official with the Mid-America Regional Council warns an extra 2,500 jobs could be lost in the Kansas City metro region because of a reduction at Fort Leavenworth. The director of the Governor's Military Council says tax revenue could decline in Leavenworth by $1.7 million annually. Brigadier General Roger Cloutier stressed that nothing has been decided yet and that officials' comments would be taken back to senior leadership.


Resentencing Scheduled for Man in Inheritance Killing 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A man convicted of killing a woman over a dispute about an inheritance will be resentenced. The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday upheld the first-degree murder conviction of Olin Coones for the 2008 killing of 45-year-old Kathleen Hadley-Schroll of Wyandotte County. But the court vacated his sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for 50 years and ordered that he be resentenced. Prosecutors said Coones killed Hadley-Schroll, who had been his father's caretaker, because he was angry that his father left her some of his estate. Coones was acquitted of killing Hadley-Schroll's husband, who was also found dead in their home. The new sentence was ordered because a judge, and not a jury, imposed the sentence, which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in June 2013.


Kansas City School Bus Hit by Car; Minor Injuries 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City police say three middle school students were taken to a hospital as a precaution after their school bus collided with a car. The accident early Friday involved a bus carrying students from Smith-Hale Middle School in the Hickman Mills District. Police say the children were taken to the hospital to be checked for possible injuries. Police say the drivers of the bus and car suffered minor injuries when the vehicle hit the side of the bus at an intersection that does not have a stop sign. An investigation is continuing.


Man Convicted of Shooting Death in Independence 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City man has been convicted of killing a man who was asleep in his vehicle in Independence. Twenty-year-old Chad D. Terry Jr. was convicted late Wednesday of first-degree murder and armed criminal action in the October 2013 shooting death of 33-year-old Erik S. Schwartz of Raytown. The Independence Examiner reports that witnesses told police four people were looking for cars to steal from when they came across Schwartz sleeping in his vehicle in Independence. The thieves reportedly took only his cigarettes. A second defendant, Charles T. Carr, earlier pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and armed criminal action and is awaiting sentencing.


AP Source: Royals Reach $17M Deal with DH Morales

SAN DIEGO (AP) - A person familiar with the negotiations says Kendrys Morales and the Kansas City Royals have agreed to a $17 million, two-year contract. The person spoke on condition of anonymity Thursday because the agreement is subject to Morales passing a physical. He figures to take over at designated hitter from Billy Butler, who left as a free agent and agreed to a $30 million, three-year deal with Oakland. Morales will get $6.5 million next year and $9 million in 2016. Morales can make an additional $750,000 in performance bonuses in each of the first two seasons based on batting success. 


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