Kansas Supreme Court affirms death penalty conviction in Ottawa quadruple murder case

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TOPEKA — The state’s highest court on Friday rejected a man convicted of capital murder’s appeal against the death penalty. 

One justice said he would consider examining the constitutionality of the death penalty in future cases that have more “substantive” arguments.

Thirty-eight-year-old Kyle Flack was convicted in 2016 of the fatal shootings of four people in 2013 and given the death penalty for two of these killings.

“In a future case, I am open to considering the constitutionality of the Kansas death penalty under section 1’s limit on state police powers,” wrote Justice Caleb Stegall. “But doing so would require an actual showing based on something more substantial than Flack has provided to demonstrate that our death penalty is not reasonably related to the furtherance of the common good.” 

A jury in Franklin County heard the case after the bodies of 21-year-old Kaylie Bailey, 30-year-old Andrew Stout, and 31-year-old Steven White were found in a residence near Ottawa. The body of Bailey’s 18-month-old daughter was discovered in a rural creek, hidden inside a suitcase. 

A motive for the killings was never given, and Flack did not testify in court. Witnesses at the time argued that Flack had severe mental illness, including  major depressive disorder and schizoaffective disorder. 

In 2022, Flack asked the Kansas Supreme Court to overturn his death sentence and other convictions, based on questions about whether his right to remain silent had been invoked, if his attorney had been given enough time to prepare for the case and a constitutional challenge to the state’s death penalty, among other arguments. 

On Friday, the court affirmed Flack’s convictions on capital murder, first-degree murder, second-degree murder and criminal possession of a firearm in an 87-page opinion. Justices rejected all of Flack’s claims, including his argument that he invoked his right to remain silent during an incriminating police interview. 

“He did not clearly state to stop the interview,” the court decision reads. “Instead, he expressed frustration the officers were unwilling to trust him.”

The majority of judges also dismissed Flack’s constitutional challenge to the death penalty. No one has been executed in Kansas since 1965, but the state still has nine men on death row.

Flack had argued section one of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights, which states that “all men are possessed of equal and inalienable natural rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” shows the right to life is protected, making the death penalty unconstitutional. 

Judges reasoned that these rights should not be taken as “‘absolute,” and that the natural rights in this section are “forfeitable in civil society.” 

Stegall departed from the majority opinion in interpreting the Bill of Rights. 

“In my view, our court continues to be wrong by declaring that criminal defendants have no protections under section 1,” Stegall wrote. “… Instead, I have consistently argued that properly understood, section 1 provides a substantive check on the police power of the state — including the power to kill its own citizens.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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