TOPEKA – Ruling the jury instructions may have violated his constitutional rights, the Kansas Supreme Court Friday overturned the death sentence for Sidney Gleason, convicted of capital murder in the 2004 killings of a Great Bend woman and her boyfriend.
Also Friday, the high court ordered a new sentencing hearing in Barton County District Court for Gleason, convicted in 2006 for the deaths of Mikiala “Miki” Martinez and Darren Wornkey. However, it will likely be several weeks before a date is set, officials at the Barton County Courthouse said, adding they had just been made aware of the ruling.
The Kansas Attorney General’s Office handled the prosecution for Gleason and his accomplice and cousin Damien Thompson during the 2006 trial in Great Bend. When reached Friday afternoon, AG spokesman Clint Blaes said they had also just received word of the decision.
Attorney General Derek Schmidt is reviewing the matter, Blaes said. It is yet to be determined if his office will be involved in the new hearing.
The Friday 5-2 high court majority said the presiding judge gave improper instructions to the jury considering whether Gleason should be sentenced to death, possibly violating his Eighth Amendment rights. Now retired Barton County District Judge Hannelore Kitts sentenced Gleason to death in August 2006.
Gleason, who is from Lyons, faced lethal injection for the February 2004 killings of Martinez and Wornkey. Prosecutors said Martinez witnessed Gleason’s participation in the robbery of a 76-year-old man, and Gleason and Thompson worried about what she might tell police.
Authorities also said they also planned to kill her boyfriend if he got in the way. The killings took place a matter of days after the robbery.
Workney was shot while he sat in his Jeep outside his home. Martinez was taken to a rural area and strangled and shot.
Thompson avoided the death penalty by pleading guilty to Martinez’s murder, receiving a life sentence.
According to a summery of the 106-page ruling, a majority of the Kansas Supreme Court affirmed the defendant’s Barton County convictions, including one capital murder conviction, but vacated his death sentence, concluding the jury instructions violated Gleason’s Eighth Amendment right to individualized sentencing.
In vacating Gleason’s death sentence, the majority concluded that an erroneous jury instruction may have precluded the jury from considering all of Gleason’s mitigating evidence, resulting in a violation of his Eighth Amendment right to individualized sentencing. Specifically, the majority found the district court failed to instruct the jury that Gleason was not required to prove his mitigating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt.
Justice Dan Biles, joined by Justice Nancy Moritz, dissented and would have affirmed Gleason’s death sentence. The dissenting justices concluded that even if the mitigating circumstances instruction was erroneous, there was no reasonable likelihood that instruction prevented the jury from considering Gleason’s mitigating evidence in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
The majority also affirmed Gleason’s convictions for aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery, and criminal possession of a firearm arising from the same facts, but vacated his conviction of the first-degree premeditated murder of Wornkey and the corresponding sentence. In upholding Gleason’s convictions, the majority rejected Gleason’s various legal challenges to the validity of his capital murder conviction and his claims that several alleged guilt-phase errors required reversal of all of his convictions.
Justice Marla Luckert, joined by Justice Carol Beier and Justice Lee Johnson, dissented from the majority on two guilt-phase issues and would have reversed several of Gleason’s convictions including his capital murder conviction. First, the dissenting justices concluded the district court’s admission of Thompson’s preliminary hearing testimony violated Gleason’s Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses against him.
Noting that Thompson was the key witness against Gleason regarding Gleason’s role in the double homicide, the dissenting justices found the state failed to establish it had made reasonable efforts to procure Thompson’s live testimony at trial. Second, the dissenting justices concluded the district court abused its discretion when it failed to grant Gleason’s request for a mistrial based on the admission of several of Thompson’s hearsay statements, which had been admitted with the understanding that Thompson would be available for cross-examination at trial.