Preliminary hearings for three men charged with first-degree murder and other felonies concluded Thursday morning in Barton County District Court, but Magistrate Judge Don Alvord won’t make a ruling until later this month.
Attorneys for defendants Adam Suppes, Alejo Villegas and Juventino Villegas say the Barton County Attorney’s Office shouldn’t have charged the men with the murder of their friend and relative, Aron Villeas, who was shot after breaking into a Great Bend home on Nov. 15, 2015.
Aron Villegas was shot by Sterling Mills, the occupant of the house at 1801 Eighth St. The state presented testimony that this occurred after the suspects and the deceased broke through the front door with a sledge hammer and proceeded to batter Mills.
They are charged with first-degree murder because Kansas law states one definition of that crime is “the killing of a human being committed in the commission of, attempt to commit, or flight from an inherently dangerous felony.”
However, defense attorney Richard Ney, representing Alejo Villegas, said that doesn’t apply in these cases.
He cited a 2001 Kansas Supreme Court Ruling in the State vs. Sanexay Sophophone.
In that case, Sophophone and others broke into an Emporia home, and the occupant called the police (http://law.justia.com/cases/kansas/supreme-court/2001/82647.html). As they were leaving, one of the burglars was fatally shot by an officer. Sophophone was caught and charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary, aggravated burglary, obstruction of official duty, and felony murder.
The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that the ruling, which reversed Sophophone’s murder conviction on a 4-3 vote, set a new standard: “One partner in crime can’t be charged with felony murder if the crime goes awry and another partner is killed by a victim or police officer.”
That is exactly what the state alleges happened in this case, said Juventio Villegas’s defense attorney Kurt Kerns.
He made the point during his cross examination Thursday of Brian Carroll, senior special agent for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
“This is unusual in that this is a murder preliminary hearing where the death itself occurred from a justified shooting,” Kerns said, asking Carroll if that was correct. The agent agreed.
“This is not a (murder) in the state of Kansas,” Ney said in his closing statements. Paul Oller, who represents Suppes, agreed.
Mellor asked for time to research the issue, which led Ney to respond, “The State should know the law. It brought this charge.”
“I somewhat agree with Mr. Ney,” Judge Alvord said.
However, he agreed to allow two weeks for the county attorney’s office to write a response to the memorandum, and attorney Oller will then have 10 days to submit something in writing.