A case goes cold
On March 24, 1982, a story in the Great Bend Tribune was titled, “Investigation of local murders continues.”
“Liquor store owners have set their closing time at 8 p.m., which is probably a daily reminder to them,” reporter Maggie Lee noted.
“The homicide investigations, now a little more than two months old, are never far from Police Chief Sid Hughes’ mind. Detectives check each new lead and have been going back over all information and evidence.
“So far, nothing leads to an arrest.
“The big problem, Hughes said, is the lack of eye witnesses. There was no witness to the second tragedy, when Sarah Wittig was stabbed to death at Boger Retail Liquor.
“And the only eye witness to the first, when Margaret Krom was shot and killed at Krom Retail Liquor Store, was also shot.
“ ‘Anytime you deal with a horrible situation like that, how can you remember who’s on the other side of a gun?’ Hughes said about Henry Bennoit, who was at the store at the time of the shooting.
“I have a feeling, it’s a personal feeling, that it’s just a matter of time before the person makes a mistake.”
Robin Lee Branson, the man serving two life sentences for Great Bend liquor store robberies that ended in murder in 1982, may be eligible for parole on June 1.
Branson was convicted of killing Margaret A. Krom and Sarah Wittig in robberies less than a week apart in January 1982.
Two months later, the investigation seemed to be leading nowhere. (See related content on this page.)
The case went cold for some time, but in 1984, Branson was recorded by an undercover Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent describing the murders. After pleading guilty to two counts of first-degree murder, Branson was sentenced to two concurrent sentences of 15 years to life.
He was sentenced nearly 30 years ago, on Sept. 14, 1984. Now 56 years old, he is incarcerated at the Lansing Correctional Facility, where his custody level is low-medium. He’s been at Lansing since 1986. Although he’s been written up on disciplinary reports several times over the years, the last time was June 30, 2010, when he was caught with “dangerous contraband.”
He will have a hearing with the Prisoner Review Board in May, as will all inmates being considered for release in June. In April, the board will hold public comment sessions concerning these inmates.
A public comment session will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 16 at the Finney State Office Building in Wichita. Additional sessions will be held April 21 at City Hall in Kansas City and April 25 at the Landon State Office Building in Topeka. Any citizen who would like to express comments may attend one of the hearings or send a letter to Kansas Department of Corrections, Prisoner Review Board; Landon State Office Building; 900 SW Jackson St., 4th Floor; Topeka, KS 66612-1220.
This is not the first time Branson has been eligible for a parole hearing. He had an unsuccessful hearing in 2008. According to the Prisoner Review Board, inmates are required by law to receive a hearing when they become parole eligible, but parole eligibility is not necessarily the same as parole suitability. In determining parole suitability, the board considers 10 areas: 1) crime; 2) prior criminal history; 3) program participation; 4) disciplinary record; 5) reports of physical/mental examinations; 6) comments received from the victim, the public and criminal justice officials; 7) prison capacity; 8) input from staff where offender is housed; 9) proportionality to sentence guidelines; and 10) risk factors revealed by any risk assessment.