- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - An attorney for a condemned serial killer who stuffed several victims’ bodies into barrels urged Kansas’ highest court Tuesday to throw out the convictions and death sentences, pressing issues varying from prosecutorial misconduct to a Bible used during jury deliberations.

Prosecutors also misapplied the state’s 1994 death-penalty law, attorney Paige Nichols said, thus wrongly lumping in John Robinson Sr.’s killings in Missouri with those in Kansas to make his 2002 Kansas trial eligible for capital punishment by showing a continuous scheme or course of conduct.

“Those (Kansas murder) counts wouldn’t have been capital ones had those (other) killings not been linked to them,” Nichols said during the nearly three-hour hearing. “If this was really such a slam-dunk case, why did the prosecutor need to push the envelope repeatedly?”

Attorneys for the state countered that the now 71-year-old grandfather got a fair trial after three weeks of lurid, often grisly testimony. Any prosecutorial errors, they insisted, were “harmless” and don’t justify a new trial.

The Supreme Court took the matter under advisement, offering no indication when it might rule. Robinson remained imprisoned and did not attend the hearing.

Tuesday’s courtroom debate focused on Robinson’s Kansas convictions in the 2000 slaying of 27-year-old Suzette Trouten of Newport, Michigan, and the 1999 killing of 21-year-old Izabela Lewicka, a Polish immigrant who attended Purdue University.

Both women were lured to Kansas by Robinson with promises of work or sadomasochistic sex, and their bodies were found in June 2000 in 55-gallon barrels on Robinson’s rural property 60 miles south of Kansas City. Two days after that discovery, three more bodies were discovered in barrels in Robinson’s rented storage locker.

Robinson also was convicted in Kansas of first-degree murder for the 1985 death of Lisa Stasi - a 19-year-old whose body was never found - and pleaded guilty to five killings in Missouri, avoiding a possible death sentence in that state.

During his trial, Robinson’s defense maintained he was incapable of the killings, pointing to the unidentified fingerprints and palm prints found where the bodies were stashed. They also said Robinson suffered from mental disease, but said they were unable to properly evaluate his condition.

Many such claims were among the more than 100 issues Robinson has raised on appeal.

Nichols said Tuesday that Robinson’s prosecutor tried to sway jurors with the unsupported claim that two of Robinson’s admitted Missouri victims - Sheila Faith, 45, and her paraplegic daughter, Debbie, 16, both formerly of California - were killed about the same time, with the teenager watching her mother die.

Jacob Gontesky, an assistant Johnson County district attorney, downplayed that comment Tuesday as just “one line in closing (arguments)” and said the coroner believed the Faiths died concurrently.

Nichols also questioned a prosecutorial remark to jurors that Robinson only showed emotion during a family member’s testimony; Gontesky said it was “an absolutely proper comment.”

Nichols also faulted a juror’s ability to bring a Bible into deliberations when state law doesn’t permit that resource in deciding guilt or innocence. Justice Lee Johnson appeared to agree, asking another assistant DA, Steve Obermeier, “If that’s the case, why couldn’t I bring my thesaurus and look up ‘mercy.’”

Obermeier replied the juror already had come to a decision but wanted to see if scripture reinforced it.

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