A 29-year-old man pleaded guilty Tuesday to capital murder in the May shooting of Kansas City, Kan., Police Detective Brad Lancaster.
Curtis Ayers avoided a possible death sentence by pleading guilty Tuesday afternoon in a Wyandotte County courtroom packed with family members and law enforcement officers.
In exchange for Ayers’ plea, prosecutors and defense attorneys will jointly recommend a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Wyandotte County District Attorney Jerome Gorman said he had discussed the plea agreement with members of Lancaster’s family, who supported the deal.
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Lancaster’s widow, Jamie, sat on the aisle of the second row of the courtroom during the proceeding. Afterward, she received hugs from many of the officers, alternately smiling and wiping away tears.
A second man charged with killing another Kansas City, Kan., officer in July also had been scheduled to change his plea Tuesday. But prosecutors announced later that Jamaal Lewis, 20, would not change his plea Tuesday in the fatal shooting of Capt. Robert David Melton.
The family of Melton, 46, were among those who filled the courtroom. Every seat was taken, including the jury box.
Melton’s sister-in-law, Lynn Melton, was unhappy that Lewis did not plead guilty. “We’ll get him,” she said.
Gorman said Lewis had been brought to the courthouse in anticipation that he would plead guilty.
“He was brought over here with the intention of that,” Gorman said.
He declined to elaborate, saying only that Lewis’ preliminary hearing remains scheduled for March and that, currently, the death penalty is still on the table, although the state has not officially requested the death penalty.
“I think it would have been best for everybody had the plea gone through; yeah, that would have been nice,” Gorman said.
Among the officers providing courtroom security was Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Deputy Scott Wood, who survived being shot multiple times during a 2015 armed robbery.
In addition to capital murder in Lancaster’s death, Ayers pleaded guilty to nine other felonies stemming from crimes that occurred in Wyandotte County after Lancaster was shot, including robbery, kidnapping and being a felon in possession of a gun. Prosecutors say Ayers also shot at another police officer during the incident.
Ayers’ sentencing is scheduled for March 14. None of Lancaster’s family members spoke during the hearing.
In outlining the evidence that would have been presented if the case had gone to trial, Gorman said Lancaster, 39, and another officer had stopped Ayers after police were called by security at the Hollywood Casino just after noon on May 9.
But when the officers tried to speak with him, Ayers fled on foot. Lancaster attempted to block the running Ayers with his unmarked police vehicle.
Gorman said witnesses heard Lancaster yell to Ayers to show his hands before Ayers pulled a handgun from his waistband and fired multiple shots into Lancaster’s car from about 8 feet away.
Lancaster crawled from the vehicle and collapsed on the ground. He suffered seven gunshot wounds.
Ayers then got in Lancaster’s car and attempted to drive away when another officer rammed the vehicle with his patrol car. Lancaster’s car spun around and was nose to nose with the other officer’s car.
Ayers then fired shots through the windshield at the other officer, who returned fire. Neither man was hit.
Ayers then sped away in the detective’s car. A few minutes later, he crashed into another car at 118th Street and State Avenue. That car was driven by a woman with her two small children buckled into car seats in the back.
Ayers pulled the woman from her car, causing her to fall and break her arm. He then sped away in her car with the children still inside.
Later, Ayers abandoned that car with the children unharmed at a house in Basehor in Leavenworth County. There, he stole another man’s car at gunpoint.
Kansas City police later spotted that car on Bruce R. Watkins Drive and pursued it until the car crashed at Bannister Road.
Ayers then attempted to carjack a woman, who was shot in the shoulder. A Kansas City officer then shot him and took him into custody.
Gorman said Tuesday’s plea did not affect the charges filed against Ayers in Leavenworth and Jackson County.
Melton was fatally shot in July while attempting to stop a suspect in a drive-by shooting. When he spotted Lewis, Melton drove up in his patrol car. Lewis then allegedly pulled out a gun and shot him.
Gorman said the timing of discussions regarding pleas in both cases had nothing to do with the fact that he is leaving office at the end of the week.
He said he met with the families of both slain lawmen in December, and they both agreed that accepting the pleas and withdrawing the death penalty from consideration was the best course of action.
“Both of the families said, ‘If we can resolve this and put everything to bed with a sentence where he doesn’t ever get out of prison, let’s do that,’ ” Gorman said. “It’s satisfying that we got a conviction, that justice was done with Curtis Ayers. And that’s the important thing.”