No gap in Kansas law on hate crimes

04/16/2014 5:10 PM

04/24/2014 10:20 AM

One brief remark during the news conference announcing charges against the anti-Semite accused of murdering three area residents set off alarms.

What? Kansas doesn’t have a hate-crime law?

The comment by prosecutors was news to Sen. David Haley, who worked for years to get such civil rights measures passed by the Kansas Legislature. And to Alvin Sykes, an activist well versed in legal codes, who works with local and federal authorities on bias crimes.

A little digging solved it. Rest assured, Kansas recognizes hate crimes. What needs to be understood are the nuances between hate-crime laws and statutes to enhance sentencing.

For prosecutors and judges, it can be a huge distinction. Kansas, in 2009, did pass enhanced sentencing laws, allowing for the piling on of more time behind bars if someone uses bias as a motivation to commit a crime. A hate-crime charge in the deaths at the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom might still be forthcoming, but through federal charges, Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe and U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said Tuesday.

As Sykes explains, one difficulty of hate-crime laws can be the high legal standards. Some call for proving not only that a murder had occurred, but at the same time that bias was the motivation. If reasonable doubt exists on either, the whole case could implode.

Better to get the conviction and then offer the judge or jury the ability to upgrade the sentence if indeed the crime had been motivated by hate. That’s where enhanced sentencing came about.

In the killings of William Lewis Corporon, his grandson Reat Underwood and Terri LaManno, higher penalties are a moot point. The accused faces one count of capital murder that carries a life sentence without parole and a first-degree murder charge with no parole for 25 years. The Kansas death penalty also is still an option.

Haley and Sykes are looking into whether existing Kansas laws are strong enough in regards to lower-level crimes, the sort of vandalism and assaults that make up the vast majority of hate crimes. In those cases, often misdemeanors, it might be prudent to raise the penalty if hate was the motive.

But it seems clear that this white supremacist acted out of deep-seated and long-held hatred of Jewish people. Another thing is apparent, too: If convicted, he’ll never take another breath as a free man.

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