F. Glenn Miller may be Kansas’ oldest capital murder defendant

F. Glenn Miller is not the oldest man ever charged with murder in Kansas. An 80-year-old Kansas City, Kan., man holds that distinction.

But Miller, the 73-year-old accused of killing three people outside of Jewish facilities in Overland Park, is believed to be the oldest person to ever be charged in Kansas with capital murder and to face a possible death sentence.

Indeed, Miller is one of only a handful of people over the age of 70 across the country to face a potential death sentence in the modern era of capital punishment.

“He is in very rare company,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C. “We rarely see someone of that age committing such a crime.”

Even though he could face a death sentence, the odds are long that if convicted he would ever be executed because of his age and the length of time it typically takes for death penalty cases to wend their way through the appeals process, Dieter said.

And it probably will be months before Johnson County prosecutors decide whether they will pursue a death sentence for Miller, also known as Frazier Glenn Cross Jr.

Prosecutors in Johnson, Sedgwick, Shawnee and Wyandotte counties — the four largest in Kansas and the ones responsible for the majority of the state’s capital cases since the death penalty was reinstituted in 1994 — said they knew of no one else as old as Miller being charged with capital murder.

And Ron Evans, who heads the Kansas Death Penalty Defense Unit and is now representing Miller, said he knows of no older capital murder defendant.

The oldest current Kansas inmate serving a death sentence is 70-year-old John E. Robinson Sr., who was 59 when he was sentenced to death in 2003 for the killings of women found in barrels on farm property he owned.

The eight other men serving death sentences in Kansas range in age from 31 to 58, Kansas Department of Corrections records show.

There have been 13 other men who went to trial on capital murder charges but were sentenced to life in prison, according to statistics kept by the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty. The oldest of them is 56.

Mary Sloan, executive director of the Kansas coalition, said she knew of no one older than Miller at the time they were charged with capital murder.

In Missouri, the oldest man sentenced to death was 76-year-old Ray Copeland, who along with his wife, Faye Copeland, was convicted in the deaths of five men who worked on their farm in northwest Missouri. He was 78 when he died in prison of natural causes.

While Miller faces a potential death sentence for the April 13 shooting spree, Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe said a decision on whether a death sentence will be sought has not been made.

Under Kansas law, a capital murder charge carries an option of life in prison with no parole or death by lethal injection.

Prosecutors do not have to file notice that they will seek a death sentence until after an arraignment. That probably will be many months away after a preliminary hearing.

Howe said he would not rush into a decision and would consult with the families of the victims before a decision is made.

But even if prosecutors seek a death sentence, and Miller is convicted, the appeals process would take a number of years.

The average time spent on death row between sentencing and execution nationally is 15 years, Dieter said. In the 20 years since Kansas reinstated the death penalty, none of those sentenced to death has come close to being executed.

The few men in the United States who have been executed after turning 70 were significantly younger when they were sentenced.

A 71-year-old man put to death last year in Arizona spent 34 years on death row, according to data from the Death Penalty Information Center.

Dieter said the oldest man known to be executed in recent times was John Nixon, who was 77 when he was executed in Mississippi in 2005.

In Kansas, the oldest known inmate to be executed was 60-year-old George Miller in 1950.

Under Kansas law, the killing of more than one person during the same crime is one of the limited circumstances when capital murder can be alleged.

Prosecutors in Franklin County on Tuesday cited the death of more than one person when they filed notice that they intend to seek a death sentence for a 28-year-old man charged in the deaths of four people near Ottawa last year.

In Glenn Miller’s case, he is charged with capital murder for killing William Lewis Corporon, 69, and his 14-year-old grandson, Reat Griffin Underwood, outside of the Jewish Community Center. He is charged with a separate count of first-degree murder for killing Terri LaManno, 53, a few minutes later outside the Village Shalom care facility.

Because Glenn Miller’s case is pending, Howe said he can’t comment on evidence or facts or how they might affect his decision to seek the death penalty.

Dieter said that seeking a death sentence for someone of Miller’s age may be more for its “symbolic value” than a practical reality.

And he noted a recently published study by the Kansas Judicial Council that found the costs of defending a death penalty case are four times higher than murder cases where the death penalty is not sought.

“An expensive symbol,” he said.

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