Convicted serial killer's Kan. death sentence upheld
This is the first time the court has upheld a death sentence since Kansas reinstated capital punishment in 1994
By John Hanna
TOPEKA, Kan. — The Kansas Supreme Court refused on Friday to remove a serial killer from death row who trolled for victims online, marking the first time the court has upheld a death sentence since Kansas reinstated capital punishment in 1994.
The 415-page ruling came in the case of John E. Robinson Sr., who was convicted of killing seven women and a teenage girl in Kansas and Missouri in cases dating back to 1984. Investigators said he lured some victims with promises of work or sex, and stuffed some of their bodies in barrels on his rural property.
The court had faced criticism for overturning death sentences, but only one of the court's seven justices dissented in Friday's ruling. District Attorney Steve Howe in Johnson County, where Robinson's case was tried, said the ruling marks a shift in how the court handles death penalty cases.
"My expectation is that, as we move forward, these cases will move at a faster pace," he said.
Investigators said Robinson used the Internet to lure two victims to Kansas: 27-year-old Suzette Trouten of Newport, Michigan, and Izabela Lewicka, a 21-yaer-old Polish immigrant who attended Purdue University.
Their bodies were found in June 2000, in large barrels on Robinson's rural property 60 miles south of Kansas City. Two days later, three more bodies were discovered in barrels in a storage locker Robinson rented in the Kansas City area.
Prosecutors described Robinson as a predator who trolled the Internet as "Slavemaster," looking for sadomasochistic sex with women.
Robinson is among only nine inmates on death row in Kansas, which has a checkered history with the death penalty. Although the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, Kansas waited nearly 20 years before reinstating it. And the state's current law is extremely narrow and allows for death sentences in only a handful of circumstances.
Five of the state's current death row inmates had their sentences overturned by the Kansas Supreme Court, but the cases have since been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court or sent to lower courts for resentencing. The other three inmates have not had first rulings from the Kansas Supreme Court.
Between various other court rulings, including some that have overturned groups of cases, it wasn't immediately clear Friday how many other death sentences the state's highest court has overturned since 1994.
Robinson was sentenced to death for killing Lewicka and Trouten under a state law allowing capital punishment for multiple, premeditated killings that were part of a "common scheme or course of conduct."
The court's lengthy decision — which dealt with dozens of technical issues raised by Robinson's attorneys on appeal — upheld the death sentence that resulted from Robinson's capital murder conviction for Trouten's death in 2000.
During the same trial in 2002, Robinson also was convicted of capital murder for the 1999 slaying of Lewicka and of non-capital murder in the 1985 death of Lisa Stasi, a 19-year-old whose body has never been found.
The Supreme Court reversed those two convictions, saying Kansas' death penalty law allowed for only one capital murder charge covering multiple killings in the overall case. But that ruling "in no way" cleared Robinson in the deaths, Justice Caleb Stegall wrote in the majority's opinion.
Prosecutors "presented ample evidence that Robinson lured his victims with promises of financial gain, employment or travel; exploited them sexually or financially; used similar methods to murder and dispose of their bodies; and used deception to conceal the crimes," Stegall wrote.
"In the end, he's been found guilty of capital murder, and the sentence has been upheld," Howe said during an interview Friday.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said in a statement that his office was "cautiously encouraged," but that it was still reviewing the court's decision. Paige Nichols, a Lawrence attorney who argued Robinson's case before the Supreme Court, did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment Friday.
The court's lone dissenter was Justice Lee Johnson, who criticized the court for linking all of the killings, including ones committed when Kansas had no death penalty. He also argued that the death penalty violates the Kansas Constitution's prohibition against cruel or unusual punishment.
On appeal, Robinson's attorneys raised dozens of issues about the selection of the jury and what evidence was allowed, as well as whether Kansas prosecutors could cite the Missouri killings to support their case for the death penalty in Kansas.
They also argued that Robinson should be resentenced because one juror consulted the Bible after concluding Robinson should receive death. The Supreme Court deemed the action "harmless."