- Associated Press - Friday, October 21, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas truck driver convicted of killing a Wichita housekeeper and cutting off her head should not have been convicted of attempted rape because prosecutors used that act to land a capital murder conviction, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled Friday.

Douglas Belt, 54, died in prison of natural causes in April, but the court continued deliberating on his appeal because it had the potential to exonerate him on one or more convictions.

Belt was convicted in 2004 of capital murder, attempted rape and aggravated arson for the 2002 slaying of Lucille Gallegos, 43. Investigators have said the killing - in which Gallegos was beheaded - was one of most gruesome crimes in the city’s history. Her head has never been found.

The court’s ruling on Friday upheld the capital murder and aggravated arson convictions but dismissed the attempted rape count because it was the impetus for the capital murder conviction.

Belt also was suspected in a series of rapes committed between 1989 and 1994, but the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the warrants for those crimes, based on DNA evidence, were not specific enough to meet legal standards.

Gallegos’ June 2002 death at a Wichita apartment complex where she worked prompted the Kansas Bureau of Investigation a year later to admit a mistake involving a blood sample taken after a 1991 rape.

The error was discovered after a sample of Belt’s DNA in the Gallegos case matched blood evidence from the 1991 case, as well as several other rape cases.

Then-KBI Director Larry Welch said some of Belt’s later crimes might have been prevented if the mistake at KBI’s Great Bend lab had not happened.

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