KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A man pleaded guilty Jan. 3 to capital murder in the shooting death last year of a Kansas police detective, avoiding a possible death sentence while agreeing to spend the rest of his life in prison.
A prosecutor said after Curtis Ayers’ court hearing that his taking the death penalty off the table came with the blessing of slain Kansas City, Kansas, Detective Brad Lancaster’s family, given the lack of executions in the state under its 1994 capital punishment law.
Kansas, with 10 inmates on death row, hasn’t executed anyone in more than half a century.
When sentenced March 14, Ayers faces additional possible prison terms for nine related felonies to which he also pleaded guilty, including burglary, robbery, battery, kidnapping, assault and weapons counts.
Ayers, 28, acknowledged in court outgoing Wyandotte County District Attorney Jerome Gorman’s account of Lancaster’s death, which occurred after the detective drove up to Ayers in his unmarked police car on May 9 while responding to a report of a suspicious person near a casino.
While Lancaster was still in his car, Ayers pulled a gun from his waistband and opened fire, wounding the detective seven times. Lancaster died later at a hospital.
Ayers sped away in Lancaster’s car, shot at another officer and carjacked a Kansas woman’s vehicle with her two young children still inside, later leaving them unharmed. The mother suffered a broken arm after Ayers pulled her from her vehicle.
Ayers eventually stole a third vehicle before being shot by Kansas City, Missouri, police and arrested, authorities have said.
Charges related to the third carjacking and other crimes he’s accused of committing that day remain unresolved.
Lancaster’s widow, Jamie Lancaster, attended the hearing. She wiped away tears as the prosecutor recounted how her husband — a 39-year-old father of two young daughters — was killed. She did not speak to reporters afterward.
Gorman, who lost in last August’s primary and soon will leave office, told reporters that Lancaster’s family signed off on Ayers’ pleas, partly to “put this to bed” knowing that Ayers no longer would pose a public threat under a life sentence.
But Gorman added that the state’s failure to execute anyone since reinstating capital punishment 23 years ago also factored into his discussions with the family.
The Kansas Supreme Court has overturned death sentences seven times in 20 years, with five of those decisions later reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In November, voters retained four of the state high court’s justices who had been targeted for ouster, partly because the court had thrown out other death sentences.