Complicated case against Kansas serial killer turns into complicated appeal 12 years later

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TOPEKA, Kan. -- One of the longest, most complicated cases ever to be prosecuted in Kansas landed in the Kansas Supreme Court on Tuesday, as convicted murderer, John Robinson's attorneys appealed his capital murder convictions and death sentences for killing eight women beginning in the early 80's through 2000, when police found his last two victims stuffed in chemical containers on Robinson's Linn County farm.

Robinson, 71, was convicted in 2003 for those crimes and three other bodies police found in similar barrels in Robinson's Raymore, MO storage lockers. He was also prosecuted for the death of three outer women, whose bodies were never found.  Now, almost 12 years later, Robinson's appeals team argues that there were many errors in his prosecution and it should be thrown out. More than 800 pages of argument and rebuttal were written for the 102 claims filed by Robinson's attorneys.

Paige Nichols, an attorney on the appeals team, chose a handful of those claims to argue live before the Kansas justices.

"The state took all of the wrong routes to the death penalty in this case. The state relied on killings that were too old and too disparate to fall within the scope of the capital statute, the state relied on the aggravating factor, that as defined by this court did not fit the facts and the prosecutor decided that he knew better than any court how to conduct himself at trial," said Nichols.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Steven Obermeier spent most of his time Tuesday answering questions from the justices about the claims brought by Robinson's appeals team.

Kansas reinstated the death penalty in July 1994, and Nichols argued that the state was unable to prove the murders of the victims occurred after the effective date of the capital murder statute.

During their investigation, detectives searched Robinson’s farm property in Linn County, Kan., and found two barrels containing the remains of missing women. Officers found the bodies of Suzette Trouten, 28, and Isabella Lewicka, 21, in June 2000. Prosecutors said Robinson engaged in sado-masochistic sex and then killed the women.

Robinson's attorneys argued that to qualify as a serial killing, which is a requirement for the death penalty, a common scheme and cause of conduct must link the murders, according to Kansas law. Robinson's attorney told the court one issue is that the prosecutor charged Robinson for the murders of Trouten and Lewicka separately because the state wanted two capital charges.

"Suzanne Trouten's and Isabella Lewika's killings could have been charged in a single capital count because both of those post-dated the statute," they argued.

Robinson also faced charges in Cass County, Mo., where police found the bodies of Beverly Bonner, Sheila and Debbie Faith stuffed in barrels in a Missouri storage facility.

After his conviction in Kansas, prosecutors in Missouri agreed to a plea in which Robinson acknowledged that the prosecutor had enough evidence to convict him of capital murder for the deaths of Paula Godfrey and Catherine Clampitt, Beverly Bonner and Sheila Faith and her 15-year-old daughter Debbie.

In his appeal in Kansas, Robinson challenges the trial court’s denial of his motion to change venue. He also challenges the court’s denial for a continuance, the court’s denial to suppress evidence. He challenges if the evidence is sufficient to support his convictions, and the denial of Robinson’s motion for mistrial based on alleged juror misconduct during the penalty phase. Other appeals are for court decisions during both the guilt-phase and the penalty-phase.

Robinson was sentenced to death in the capital murder convictions, along with sentences for the other convictions, including:

  • Life imprisonment for the first-degree murder conviction
  • 246 months in prison for the aggravated kidnapping conviction
  • Seven months  in prison for the felony theft conviction
  • He was also ordered to pay more than $9,000 in restitution.

There's no clear indication when the Kansas Supreme Court might rule in the case.