The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Top Stories

December 10, 2012

Constitutionality of teen’s murder charge questioned

JOPLIN, Mo. — The attorney for the accused shooter in the home-invasion slaying of Jacob Wages is questioning the constitutionality of his 17-year-old client being charged with first-degree murder.

William Fleischaker has filed motions seeking dismissal of a charge of first-degree murder that his client, Daniel D. Hartman, is facing.

The U.S. Supreme Court held in a 2005 case that the Eighth Amendment prohibits capital punishment of juveniles convicted of murder. In the case Miller v. Alabama earlier this year, the nation’s high court further held that the same amendment prohibits any sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without any possibility of parole for juvenile offenders.

In both cases, the Supreme Court defined a juvenile as anyone under the age of 18.

With the arrest Saturday in Tulsa, Okla., of 17-year-old fugitive Marcus D. Stephens, also known as Marcus Hill, five suspects are in custody in the case. Hartman is the lone defendant charged with first-degree murder because he is believed to have been the one who shot Wages, 23, in the early morning hours of July 6 inside the victim’s home at 1912 S. Pearl Ave. in Joplin. The suspects are believed to have been looking for drugs and cash.

Hartman initially was charged with first-degree murder, armed criminal action and burglary. The first count was amended Sept. 27 to include an alternative charge of second-degree murder because of the potential conflict with Supreme Court rulings. He was bound over for trial on those charges at a preliminary hearing Nov. 7.

Missouri’s statute governing first-degree murder provides for just two possible penalties, death or life without parole. Fleischaker is arguing that since the statute does not contain a constitutionally valid punishment for a juvenile defendant, the court has no authority to proceed with a case charging his client with first-degree murder.

The Jasper County prosecutor’s office has argued in responding motions that the Supreme Court has not held that a sentence of life in prison without parole is unconstitutional for juveniles. What it found unconstitutional in Miller v. Alabama was sentencing schemes that “fail to offer an alternative to life without parole.”

Prosecutors Norman Rouse and Kimberly Fisher point out that by providing the alternative charge of second-degree murder, a lesser range of punishment — from 10 to 30 years or up to life with a chance of parole — is in play. They further argue that the appropriate remedy may be severance of the provision of the statute that is deemed unconstitutional rather than dismissal of the first-degree murder charge.

The prosecutors also maintain that the defense motion is premature because the Missouri Legislature is expected to address the ruling in Miller v. Alabama with a revision of the state’s first-degree murder statute in the coming year. They suggest that the judge wait until the Legislature acts, or at least until the case gets closer to trial before addressing the issue.

Circuit Judge Gayle Crane took the matter under advisement at a hearing on Monday.

In the meantime, the surrender of Marcus Stephens over the weekend could lead to a second adult-certification hearing in the case since he was 16 when the crime was committed. Co-defendant Elijah Taylor also was 16 when the home invasion took place. He is 17 now and was certified to stand trial as an adult at a hearing Aug. 30.

Taylor, his brother Johnathan J. Taylor, 19, of Joplin, and Cody E. Stephens, 20, of Parsons, Kan., are charged with second-degree murder and burglary.

Elijah Taylor testified at Hartman’s preliminary hearing that he went to Wages’ home the night in question with Hartman, Cody Stephens, Marcus Stephens and another man, who has not been charged in the case. Elijah Taylor said the other man remained in their car parked at a church across the street from the victim’s home and did not go inside with them.

Elijah Taylor testified that Hartman shot Wages as they broke into the house through the front door and the victim started to get out of his bed.

His testimony did not implicate his brother, Johnathan Taylor, in the crime. But Joplin police Lt. Darren Gallup said Monday that investigators have reason to believe that Johnathan Taylor was involved, and thus he is charged.

“On each one of these guys, we’ve gotten corroborating statements or corroborating evidence that they were there,” Gallup said.

Gallup said police have looked into Elijah Taylor’s statement about a man who stayed in the car while the others went inside. At this point in the investigation, there is no evidence of the man’s presence at the scene or involvement in the crime in any other manner, he said.

On the witness stand, Elijah Taylor named yet another man as the provider of the information on which they were acting that night, namely that Wages was in possession of a large amount of cash and Ecstasy pills. Gallup said that claim remains under investigation without any charge having been brought against him.

Extradition pending

MARCUS STEPHENS, also known as Marcus Hill, has yet to be brought to Missouri from Tulsa to face juvenile and possibly adult court proceedings in the slaying of Jacob Wages, of Joplin.

1
Text Only
Top Stories
  • r073114rebuildjoplin3.jpg 30 volunteers a day would be a ‘game-changer’ for Rebuild Joplin

    Betty and Louis Wirick, both 79, say they are grateful to have survived the 2011 tornado as it tore down part of their home of 25 years on South Bird Avenue. But three years later, they are frustrated.

    July 31, 2014 2 Photos

  • Scott Branden Smith 080114.jpg Comatose assault victim dies

    A Joplin man left in a coma from an apparent assault died this afternoon at Freeman Hospital West.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • Amendment 7 backers tout safety, new jobs; foes say special interests to benefit

    Billions of dollars are on the line when Missouri voters head to the polls on Tuesday to consider Amendment 7.
    The constitutional amendment, sent to the voters by the Legislature this year, would temporarily increase Missouri’s sales tax by three-quarters of 1 percent, raising an estimated $5.4 billion for the next decade to fund transportation projects. That includes more than $114.1 million in state funds for projects in Newton and Jasper counties, on top of additional revenue for localities that would be raised.
    After the Missouri Department of Transportation downsized in recent years, these projects are now mostly designed and built by private engineers, contractors and laborers — many of whom have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to a campaign effort to sway voters to support the measure.
    Last Monday — eight days ahead of the primary election day — supporters of the measure reported having raised more than $4.1 million for a campaign committee called Missourians For Safe Transportation and New Jobs, which was established last fall to support the measure.
    The International Union of Operating Engineers in St. Louis and Kansas City have contributed nearly $250,000 to the effort. That total was dwarfed by the $649,398 put in by the Industry Advancement Fund Heavy Constructors. Between its Missouri and Kansas companies, APAC — a construction contracting company that specializes in transportation projects — has contributed more than $150,000.
    “The whole idea that money is flowing into the campaign, of course it is,” said Sen. John Lamping, a St. Louis Republican who is opposed to the measure. “It would be a smart business decision to do that.”
    Lamping said the money pouring into the campaign supporting Amendment 7 is indicative of the financial gain the measure bodes for contractors and laborers.  
    Lamping proposed a measure in the Legislature that would redirect one-eighth of existing sales and use tax revenue directly to transportation projects, but he said that measure was rejected by legislative leaders. The coalition “didn’t hear about it,” the outgoing senator said, “because it was my idea instead of someone else’s idea.”
    Lamping, who filibustered a similar measure in 2013, said Republicans have an ideological consistency problem on the issue. He pointed to the Legislature passing a sales tax increase only a few weeks after overriding Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of an income tax cut that will largely help businesses organized as limited liability corporations, like many of the companies that could benefit from the measure. Lamping said that the tax increase will mostly affect taxpayers who did not get a significant tax cut.
    “Who wants a tax cut in Missouri?” he said. “Businesses. (Republican leaders) wanted to make them happy and then they passed a tax cut. This is grand-scale special interest cronyism.”
    The ad campaign being funded mostly by the business interests features paramedics and construction workers claiming the measure would “fix our roads and keep Missouri families safe.”
    “We have a chance to give our highways and bridges the repairs they need,” says one ad, which is running in Joplin and statewide in the lead up to Tuesday’s vote. “We have a chance to fix what’s broken by voting yes on Amendment 7.”
    The commercial uses a lot of words to talk about the benefits of the measure, but two words in particular are noticeably absent from the commercial: “Tax increase.”  
    “The ads don’t mention any of the ballot language,” said Jewell Patek, a spokesman for Missourians For Safe Transportation and New Jobs. “We figure Missourians will see the language when they go to the polls.”
    Patek, a former state representative who now lobbies the Legislature, said he disagreed with Lamping’s notion that Amendment 7 is all about special interest gain.
    “There’s quite a bit to gain for Missourians,” he said. “We have serious road needs. We’ll win or lose by the benefits in Amendment 7. I’m not sure I agree with Senator Lamping’s assessment.”
    If approved, Amendment 7 would prevent an increase in the state’s fuel tax, a funding boost opponents of the amendment like Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and some of the state’s social welfare groups have said would be more appropriate because it could pull in revenue from people who use the roads — like the state’s trucking industry.
    The Missouri Truckers Association’s political action committee has contributed more than $27,000 to the effort to pass the measure. Tom Crawford, president of the association, said his members support the amendment because they see the problems on the road and deal with them every day. And passage of the measure does not mean anyone will stop paying fuel tax.
    “We overpay our fair share on the fuel tax,” he said, pointing to statistics by the American Transportation Research Institute that show truckers have accounted for about 14 percent of road usage while paying for 39 percent of all taxes and fees owed by motorists. “We pay sales taxes just like everybody does on goods and products that people buy in the stores.”
    Crawford said truck companies do not pay state sales taxes on the purchase of trucks, but they do pay a federal tax. “So, we won’t be impacted on new equipment purchase, but other areas of our business will be impacted just like every other taxpayer in the state will,” he said.
    Thomas Shrout, who is helping lead the campaign against the tax hike, said that is not good enough and that Amendment 7 lets truck drivers off the hook. “Under Amendment 7, they wouldn’t have to pay any more,” he said.
    Shrout’s opposition campaign has raised just over $27,000 — less than 1 percent of the total money raised by its supporters. They are targeting their opposition at the state’s urban core by spending money on direct mail and targeted robocalls in the final week.
    “We think using the sales tax to fund road projects is poor policy for the state of Missouri,” he said. “It should be rejected.”
    Shrout said the Missouri Department of Transportation and its supporters should go back to the drawing board and consider some of the other options like campaigning for toll roads or a gas tax increase — both based on road usage.
    Representatives for APAC and the Heavy Constructors Association declined requests for comment.

    Tuesday’s election
    Amendment 7 is one of five measures voters will consider when they head to the polls on Tuesday. Statewide, local election officials reported to the Missouri secretary of state that it was their estimate that about 27 percent of the state’s 4.06 million registered voters will show up to vote, including 25 percent of registered voters in Jasper County and 30 percent in Newton County.

    August 1, 2014

  • Brownback names 3 Kansas Board of Regents members

    Gov. Sam Brownback on Friday named a former veteran Kansas House member and two attorneys to the board overseeing the state’s higher education system.

    August 1, 2014

  • Fair to feature goats, chickens and decorated bras

    Along with the usual fair sights, sounds and smells — livestock, poultry, produce and the like — there will be something a bit unusual at the Cherokee County American Legion Free Fair this year: Decorated brassieres. And pink. Lots of pink.

    August 1, 2014

  • Grant to fund solar energy system for PSU’s Plaster Center

    An $80,000 grant from Westar Energy will fund solar panels to provide both energy and education at the Robert W. Plaster Center, now under construction at Pittsburg State University.

    August 1, 2014

  • Detour in Parsons for bridge work begins

    A portion of south U.S. 59 Highway will close at the Parsons, Kansas, city limits on Aug. 4 for drainage work, asphalt resurfacing and a bridge deck repair project.

    August 1, 2014

  • Autism center to break ground on future home

    Ground will be broken Tuesday morning for the future home of the Bill & Virginia  Leffen Center for Autism at 2808 S. Picher Ave.

    August 1, 2014

  • Our View.jpg Our View: Home runs for area

    Baseball fans, there’s something exciting going on today that has nothing to do with the major leagues.

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • LIVE BLOG: Little League Regional Tournament

    Athletes and parents from Joplin and Frontenac are headed to Indianapolis for the Little League Central Region Tournament. Follow their progress here.

    August 1, 2014