Barton County Attorney Doug Matthews said his office prosecuted close to 2,300 newly filed cases in 2015, for charges ranging “from murder to seat belt violations.”
The county attorney spoke to the Great Bend Kiwanis Club, which meets at noon Wednesdays in the Derrick Room at Perkins Restaurant. He said 430 criminal cases were filed last year, as well as about 270 juvenile cases and over 1,500 traffic cases, all handled by himself and two assistant county attorneys, Amy Mellor and Rita Sunderland. Add in appeals, cases carried over from previous years, re-opened cases, care and treatment cases and fish & game cases, and the three attorneys made more than 5,000 court appearances last year, he estimated.
“We could use one or two more attorneys,” Matthews said.
However, the county attorney’s 10-person staff is already in cramped quarters at the Barton County Courthouse, which is why he’s also asked the county commission to find more space.
“Last year we thought we had a couple of locations, but the county commissioners said they want to keep us in the courthouse,” he said.
Matthews said that while a county attorney is thought of as someone who prosecutes cases, his first responsibility is to make sure justice is done.
“If a report comes to me, I review each and every one of them,” he said. “Ninety-five percent of the cases we file end in a plea to one charge or more.”
Matthews estimated he reads 600-700 cases submitted by law enforcement officers each year, and that 75-80 percent of those cases are prosecuted. Before he files a formal criminal complaint he asks two questions: “Was a crime committed? Can I prove it beyond a reasonable doubt?
“If the answer to either question is ‘no,’ I can’t file,” he said. He may have officers try to find more evidence.
Matthews said he doesn’t think Barton County’s crime rate is much different than other parts of Kansas.
Audience members wanted to know if Sidney Gleason has used up his appeals to the death sentence handed down by a Barton County jury.
“Not yet,” he said. The Kansas Supreme Court will probably take up the case again this spring or summer.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected as incorrect the Kansas Supreme Court’s conclusion that the federal Constitution barred the death sentences recommended by juries in Kansas v. Jonathan Carr, Kansas v. Reginald Carr and Kansas v. Sidney Gleason.
Gleason faces lethal injection for the February 2004 killings of Mikiala “Miki” Martinez and Darren Wornkey in Barton County. Prosecutors said Martinez witnessed Gleason’s participation in the robbery of a 76-year-old man. Gleason and his accomplice, Damien Thompson, worried about what she might tell police, killed Martinez and her boyfriend.
The Carrs were convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death following a December 2000 crime spree involving multiple murders and various sex crimes in Wichita.