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Kansas Death-Row Case Heads to Washington

WASHINGTON (CN) - A vacated death sentence in Kansas will face review by the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices said Monday.

State police had arrested Sidney Gleason and Damien Thompson on Feb. 22, 2004, just 10 days after Paul Elliott was robbed at knifepoint at his home in Great Bend.

Their co-conspirator in the robbery, Miki Martinez, and Martinez's boyfriend, Darren Wornkey, had been killed a day before the arrests.

An amended complaint against Gleason and Thompson alleged capital-murder charges for Martinez and Wornkey's deaths, plus first-degree premeditated murder and aggravated kidnapping of Martinez, and the attempted first-degree murder and aggravated robbery of Paul Elliott.

Thompson ultimately pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder charge, leading investigators to Martinez's body and testifying against Gleason.

In addition to his testimony against Gleason, the state also had two more co-conspirators.

While it added a firearm charge against Gleason, it dismissed the attempted murder charge.

The jury took just a couple of hours to convict Gleason on all charges. He got a death sentence for the capital offense, and a life sentence on the other charges.

Vacating the death sentence last year, the Kansas Supreme Court found that the jury was not properly instructed on its duty to consider mitigating circumstances.

Mitigating factors that Gleason had asserted included the love of his family, many of whom were also in jail or prison, and his relatively young age of 24.

Gleason had also noted that Thompson would be eligible for parole in less than 23 years despite his admitted role in the underlying crimes.

On appeal, the killer persuaded the Kansas Supreme Court that the jury was not instructed on the point that mitigating circumstances need not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

In this case, "the instructions as a whole in this case exacerbated rather than cured the instructional error," the 106-page opinion states. "Namely, the instructions repeatedly emphasized the state's burden to prove the existence of aggravating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt and to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the death penalty should be imposed. Conversely, the instructions never informed or explained to the jury that no particular burden of proof applied to mitigating circumstances."

The same ruling upheld all of the Gleason's convictions except for the first-degree premeditated murder, vacating that and a corresponding hard 50 sentence as "multiplicitous."

Per its custom, the Supreme Court did not comment on the case in granting the state a writ of certiorari Monday. It noted that Gleason can proceed in forma pauperis.

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