Convicted murderer’s Hard 50 sentence appeal frustrates Overland Park victim’s family

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- It's been nearly five-and-a-half years since an Overland Park teenager was kidnapped and brutally killed by her ex-boyfriend and two other men. Since that time, all three men have been convicted and sent to prison.

But a Kansas Supreme Court ruling overturned the sentence for Dustin Hilt.

Keighley Alyea disappeared from Overland Park in late September 2009. Several days later her body was found in Cass County, Mo. Her mother thought after years of trials everything was over, but she found out she now has to sit through one more.

"It's very frustrating because he's already been sentenced in our eyes," said Kelley Bastel.

Keighley's ex-boyfriend, Hilt, was the last to be convicted back in 2010. However, years of appeals haven't let Bastel and the rest of Keighley's family move on.

When Hilt was convicted of first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated robbery, he was given life in prison with a "Hard 50," meaning he had to serve 50 years before any chance at parole. Keighley's mother firmly agreed with the punishment.

"We want the Hard 50, yes, that's important to us. If he doesn't get the Hard 50 he's eligible for parole at 25 years," Bastel explained.

Eventually the appeal of the Hard 50 made its way to the Kansas Supreme Court.  According to Lisa Taylor, public information officer for Kansas Supreme Court, the justices ruled to vacate the judge's sentence and said a jury must impose a Hard 50 sentence.

Their ruling was based on a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court in June, in which the country's highest court ruled that Hard 50 sentences must come from a jury. Those imposed by a judge are unconstitutional, according to the Supreme Court.

In explanation, Taylor sent FOX 4 this paragraph from the justice's opinion.

“The hard 50 life sentence imposed in this case is unconstitutional under Alleyne v. United States, 570 U.S. __, 133 S. Ct. 2151, 186 L. Ed. 2d 314 (2013), because the sentencing judge, rather than the jury, found the existence of four aggravating factors, and did so on a preponderance-of-the-evidence rather than a beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard.”

The ruling means everyone who testified at all the trials will have to do so one more time in June.

"I think once you are sentenced you should be sentenced. To back log all these Hard 50 cases and redo the trials for a jury's decision is just kind of hard for families. It's hard to think about having to go back and do it all," Bastel said.

Bastel thinks about what happened to Keighley every day, but when it's in court there are graphic images and testimony that are too tough to bear. She says that's the worst part of having to sit through yet another trial.

"After five years we are healing, to have to re-bring all that stuff up again causes more anxiety and things for the family," she said.

This is the first case in the State of Kansas to have to redo sentencing since the Supreme Court's ruling. A jury will be selected and five days have been set aside for the sentencing phase. Family and the district attorney's office are hopeful the jury will hand down the same Hard 50 sentence.

Click on this link for previous coverage about the case.