Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of stories featuring The Telegram’s top 10 news stories for 2014.
The Kansas Supreme Court vacated a Hard 50 sentence given to a Garden City man, and returned it to the Finney County Court in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that ruled such sentences had to go to a jury, rather than being made by a judge alone.
The story made the list of The Garden City Telegram’s Top 10 for the year at No. 10.
Joaquin De Anda, 23, was transferred to Lansing Correctional Facility, where he awaits a resentencing hearing early next year.
At De Anda’s last court appearance on Oct. 10, the resentencing hearing was continued to Jan. 20, 2015, after De Anda’s defense attorney, Ron Evans, argued De Anda was not in the proper mental state to be able to understand the proceedings. Evans said De Anda would not be able to help his case as he had been taken off medications he was on while serving time at Lansing Correctional Facility.
De Anda was ordered at his sentencing to take medicines to help his mental stability, according to Judge Quint, who sent him to prison. De Anda is on Abilify, a prescription drug commonly used for treatment of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or depression. He is on another medication intended to stabilize his mental state, as well.
Evans told the court that since De Anda was off both, it could not be guaranteed he would understand what was happening.
De Anda had been sentenced by Judge Michael Quint to life in prison with 50 years before the possibility of parole — known as a “Hard 50” sentence — after pleading guilty in June 2011 to first-degree murder in the death of a 16-year-old Deerfield girl, Julia Quintana.
Authorities arrested the then 17-year-old De Anda in December 2008, after discovering Quintana’s body in a dumpster in the alley behind De Anda’s residence. After she failed to show up to a friend’s birthday party on Dec. 13, 2008, her family filed a missing persons report with the Kearny County Sheriff’s Office and Garden City Police Department.
Evidence from an autopsy disclosed that Quintana died from asphyxiation. De Anda admitted to choking Quintana to death and committing sexual acts on her before dragging her body out of his house and placing it in a nearby dumpster.
De Anda originally was charged with rape and aggravated and criminal sodomy in addition to the murder charge, but the rape and sodomy charges were dropped in exchange for his guilty plea.
The resentencing hearing was scheduled to start on Oct. 21, with a jury hearing his case to determine his new sentence. De Anda admitted to the crime, so the court rendered a sentence in 2011 without involving a jury. That all changed when the old practice of sentencing people to Hard 50s or Hard 25s became illegal without a jury, and judges could no longer make the decision on their own.
De Anda appealed his “Hard 50” sentence after the law under which he was imprisoned was judged unconstitutional, following a ruling earlier this year in a different case.
“The gist of the decision was a new precedent from the U.S. Supreme Court, and it didn’t just apply to Mr. De Anda’s case but it went to all 50 states,” Judge Quint said, explaining states now must handle cases like De Anda’s in this way.
Quint said because the “Hard 50” vs. the “Hard 25” is a big issue being debated in judicial circles, the U.S. Supreme Court has decided there’s a due process requirement that mandates someone other than just the judge make the decision.
At the time the case was remanded, Judge Quint said: “We followed Kansas law when Mr. De Anda was in court several years ago, but the law has changed and because of the fact he was still under appeal, the decision of the Supreme Court came down to the requirement of a jury of peers to listen to evidence and decide whether he gets a heavier sentence or not.”
Finney County Attorney Susan Richmeier explained there was just the question as to what the sentence should be, and not whether De Anda was guilty. Should the case go to resentencing in January, the jury would be required to examine the question of whether the “Hard 50” is an appropriate sentence or 25 years to life.
“The jury in this case has a very limited amount of leeway. We’ll strictly present information for the jury to make that determination just on that issue,” Richmeier said.