Kansas Supreme Court Postpones Death Penalty Decision for Convicted Murderer

BY JADEN MOUNT

Tiger Media Network

The highest court in the state of Kansas has decided to delay its decision on the execution of a convicted murderer. In January 2007, 19-year-old Jodi Sanderholm would become the victim of the unspeakable by then 23-year-old Justin Thurber.

Sanderholm was last seen alive Jan. 5, 2007. She was a student and dance team member of Cowley County Community College in Arkansas City. Her body was found five days later north of Kay County, Oklahoma, and was sent to Wichita for an autopsy. The procedure revealed Sanderholm had been raped and murdered.

Thurber initially was taken into custody the following Saturday. He was the subject of multiple restraining orders, according to the Victims’ Families for the Death Penalty. The Cowley County District Attorney’s Office brought charges against Thurber, which resulted in the death penalty sentence Feb. 17, 2009. He did not testify at any point in his trial.

Then Kansas Attorney General Steve Six wrote in a statement, “The jury’s verdict brings justice to the community, but it is still a sad day because it does not bring Jodi back. Jodi had a promising future and a whole life ahead of her that will not be realized. My family will continue to pray for the Sanderholm family, and I ask all Kansans to do the same.”

Thurber’s defense attorney appealed the conviction in late October 2017 on the basis of Thurber being developmentally disabled. The argument claimed Thurber’s IQ was between 70 and 80, below the normal average for his age at the time of the crime. State attorneys countered, saying the individual in question had graduated high school and attended college.

The Kansas Supreme Court announced it was postponing the decision June 15. Justice Dan Biles wrote the opinion of the court in the 126-page brief.

“Our problem on appeal,” Biles wrote, “is identifying the law to apply to resolve these questions because that law changed after Thurber’s trial. The United States Supreme Court twice expanded Eighth Amendment requirements for making intellectual disability determinations in death penalty cases.”

The case will be sent back to a lower court to decide if Thurber has a developmental disability or not.

“Yeah, I’m upset with the whole system entirely,” said Brian Sanderholm, Jodi’s father, in an interview with KSN. “I really … I can not for the life of me believe our system has gotten to the point you can actually go out and do a crime like this and not have to pay for it with the ultimate sentence.”

No timetable has been set for the Kansas court hearing.

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