The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday overturned a lower court’s denial of a man’s request to conduct DNA testing on crime scene evidence gathered after his wife’s fatal beating in 1992.
Jerome Cheeks was convicted of second-degree murder in the killing of his wife, Dianne Heitz Cheeks, who was sexually assaulted and beaten to death in their Kansas City, Kan., home. He was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison and was released on parole in 2013.
Cheeks said he found his wife lying on the floor when he returned from a trip to St. Louis. In 2009, he asked to have crime scene evidence tested using techniques that weren’t available when he stood trial, believing it would support his claim that he didn’t kill her.
Cheeks’ appeal for new testing previously landed him before the state Supreme Court, which ruled in 2013 that a Kansas law limiting post-conviction DNA analysis to cases involving only first-degree murder or rape is unconstitutional and should be broadened.
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The justices then remanded the case to the Wyandotte County court to establish whether Cheeks met two other statutory requirements necessary to secure the DNA testing of crime scene evidence. A Wyandotte County judge ruled last year that Cheeks didn’t meet one of the requirements because he was no longer “in state custody” because he had been paroled.
In the latest reversal, the high court found that Cheeks had met the custody requirement because he was incarcerated when he filed his original petition seeking the testing. The justices also directed the Wyandotte County court to consider whether evidence is available for testing that could aid Cheeks’ defense. Testing would be contingent on the outcome of the district court hearing.
“The fact that he was on parole when it came back to the judge for the hearing doesn’t matter,” said Paul Dent, Cheeks’ lawyer. “The Supreme Court found that what does matter was that on the date when he filed the petition, he was an inmate in Lansing.”
Dent said Cheeks didn’t want to comment for the story.
Wyandotte County District Attorney Jerome Gorman said that beyond the two DNA rulings in the case, the Kansas Supreme Court twice upheld Cheeks’ second-degree murder conviction.
Despite winning the appeal, it may be some time before Cheeks, now 54, is able to return to Wyandotte County.
A warrant seeking to revoke his parole was filed by Kansas prison officials after Cheeks was charged last October in federal court with being a felon in possession of a firearm.
The charge stemmed from an altercation at a Kansas City house in which Cheeks threatened to shoot the 14-year-old son of a woman he was dating, according to court documents.
According to federal court records, he pleaded guilty to the charge in March and is awaiting sentencing.
The Star’s Tony Rizzo contributed to this report.