When a Johnson County judge sentenced Dustin Hilt to the maximum term for the 2009 killing of an Overland Park teenager, the judge said he never had heard a case that deserved it more.
Hilt and two other men kidnapped 18-year-old Keighley Alyea, beat and choked her and stabbed her 30 times before abandoning her body in rural Cass County.
“This was torture. This was cruel. It was senseless,” the judge said the day he ordered Hill to serve life in prison with no chance of parole for 50 years.
But because a judge, and not a jury, set the sentence, the Kansas Supreme Court threw it out and ordered a new sentencing hearing.
This week, a judge scheduled that hearing for June. A new jury will be empaneled to determine if Hilt again should face the so-called “hard 50” sentence on his first-degree murder conviction.
It will be the first case in Johnson County where a jury that did not determine a defendant’s guilt will be asked to determine his sentence.
The Kansas Supreme Court upheld Hilt’s conviction but vacated his sentence last year to conform with a 2013 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that found juries, not judges, must consider whether to impose enhanced sentences like the hard 50 in Kansas.
The Kansas Legislature also changed the law to require a jury decision, but the Kansas Supreme Court did not address whether the new law applied retroactively to Hilt and others sentenced before the law changed.
Hilt’s attorney, Jason Billam, argued in court documents that applying the law retroactively would be unconstitutional. Billam said that Hilt should receive the standard sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
But prosecutors argued that it did apply, and a judge denied Billam’s motion to find the new Kansas law unconstitutional.
The new sentencing hearing is scheduled to begin with jury selection on June 22 in Johnson County District Court.
One of the two co-defendants also is appealing his hard 50 prison term. The other defendant was sentenced to 27 years in prison.