The cases against two accused Cheyenne County murderers are headed in different directions as a result of hearings this morning before Judge Derek Weimer.
A July 15 trial date has been set for Larry G. Martinez, 53, Sidney, who is charged with Class IA felony first-degree murder, and felony use of a weapon to commit a felony, while Craig A. Johnson, 47, Sidney, also facing first-degree murder charges, will have a second competency evaluation before he can be arraigned on his charges, which is to include the enhancement of criminal habituality.
Martinez, who stands accused in the July 18 shooting death of Mandy Kershman, 30, was spared the death penalty recently when Cheyenne County Attorney Paul Schaub .
Originally, Schaub had intent to move forward with Class I first-degree murder and Class IC use of a firearm to commit a felony.
However, Schaub informed the court that he was filing a second amended charge of Class IA first-degree murder.
In the amended charge, Schaub stated that after speaking with other attorneys experienced in death-penalty cases, and after reviewing additional facts plus performing some legal research, he was convinced there was no longer sufficient admissible evidence to support the death penalty in the case.
During today’s scheduled pre-trial hearing, defense attorney Kelly Breen informed the court that he was being replaced by Sarah Newell, through the state’s Public Advocacy Program.
The prosecution is being handled through the Attorney General’s office, with Sandra Allen representing. Deputy attorney Corey O’Brien was present this morning with Schaub.
Weimer has set the trial to begin July 15, and has basically set aside two full weeks for the trial.
“The weeks of July 15 and July 22 are the first ‘big chunks’ of time I have on my calendar for a trial,” Weimer said.
Weimer also set a pre-trial date of July 1, which would be the final date in which Martinez could change his plea.
The issue of supplemental juror questionnaires will be taken up April 4 at 9 a.m.
JOHNSON’S COMPETENCY WILL BE EVALUATED
With amended charges facing him, Breen filed a motion that a second competency test be administered to Johnson prior to his arraignment on amended charges.
Johnson, 47, faces a felony Class 1B second-degree murder charge and one Class II felony count of use of a weapon to commit a felony, in connection with the Dec. 11, 2011 beating death of April Smith.
After charges were filed against Johnson, he was ruled to be incompetent to stand trial by Weimer last spring, but that ruling was later overturned.
O’Brien told the court that the state did not object to a second competency test, under the conditions that Johnson be ordered to cooperate during the examination and evaluation, something he apparently didn’t honor the previous time.
“The evaluation reports indicated that (Johnson) refused to discuss issues like auditory hallucinations with the doctors,” O’Brien said. “Also, the previous letters from the doctors made some reference that Johnson was refusing to take his medications.”
In addition to the two charges against Johnson, Schaub has entered amended information on the case, adding the enhancement of habitual criminality.
Weimer ordered Johnson to return to Lincoln Regional Center for further evaluation, and that the time spent with the evaluation would be assessed against the terms of a speedy trial clock.
If convicted, Johnson would stand to have whatever sentence is handed down, with a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years, and not to exceed 60 years.
While seeking the enhancement via habitual criminality, Schaub noted that Johnson has been sentenced on prior occasions, all in Houston County, Texas. In December 1987, Johnson violated his probation on a 1983 burglary charge, being sent to the Texas Department of Corrections for a five-year term.
Johnson was also sentenced for another burglary charge in April 1990, where he received a 12-year sentence, and in June 1993, he was given probation after pleading guilty delivery of a controlled substance. Johnson had that probation revoked in December 1993, when he was sentenced to serve 15 years.
Johnson’s Class second-degree murder charge carries a sentence of 20 years to life imprisonment, upon conviction, and the Class II count has up to 50 years’ time attached to it.
SCHLIEKER SENTENCED; BLAKE RULING
One of two men connected to the Kershman murder investigation, Donald Schlieker, was sentenced on weapons and drug charges this morning, while the other, Leland Blake, had his sentencing hearing continued.
Weimer sentenced Schlieker, 50, Sidney, to six months in the Cheyenne County Jail towards his guilty plea involving a Class IV felony count of possession of a defaced firearm.
Upon discharge of his jail time, Schlieker must also serve five years of intensified court supervision for his guilty plea of Class III delivery of marijuana, a Class III felony.
Following leads in the hours after the Kershman shooting death, authorities executed a search warrant of Schlieker’s home, where Martinez was allegedly staying.
There, investigators discovered a sawed-off .22-caliber rifle with the serial numbers removed. The weapon was not believed to be used in the commission of Kershman’s death.
Schlieker was later arrested on the drug charges, in that he had sold marijuana to an undercover officer.
Today’s scheduled sentencing of Blake, who pleaded guilty to a Class II felony charge of delivery of Vicodin (hydrocodone), was continued.
It is alleged that Kershman was shot and killed by Martinez at Blake’s home on Grant Street.
Blake was charged twice for selling Vicodin to an undercover agent, but had those charges halved prior to the guilty plea.