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Supreme Court Sends 1993 Murder Case Back To Sedgwick County For Another Appeals Hearing

wstrachan1, flickr Creative Commons

For the second time, the Kansas Supreme Court is asking Sedgwick County District Court officials to determine whether a Wichita man convicted of murder 25 years ago has the right to appeal.

Shelbert Smith was arrested after a pizza delivery man was robbed and murdered in May 1993. Smith pleaded no contest to first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery and possession of a firearm by a minor, according to court records.

Smith was 16 at the time but was convicted as an adult. He was sentenced to life sentences for the murder and aggravated kidnapping convictions.

Smith filed a motion to appeal in 2013. He said in his filing that he told his attorney he wanted to appeal immediately after his conviction. He said his attorney, now deceased, never filed an appeal.

A Sedgwick County court turned down Smith’s motion, saying the deadline to file an appeal had passed.

The Supreme Court in 2016 sent the case back to Sedgwick County, asking court officials to determine whether Smith’s claims about trying to file an appeal were credible.

After a hearing, the district court said the claims were not credible and denied Smith the chance to appeal, records say.

In Friday’s ruling, the Supreme Court said it was concerned the district court considered “irrelevant” information in making its determination. It said the action “has at least the appearance of bias or prejudice.”

Among the information considered by the district court that troubled the Supreme Court was a reference to Smith’s music preferences and photos of Smith’s brands and tattoos that were taken by order of the district court, according to the ruling.

It ordered a different Sedgwick County District Court judge to hear the evidence and determine anew whether Smith’s claims were credible.

Tom Shine is director of news and public affairs at KMUW. Follow him on Twitter @thomaspshine.

Tom joined KMUW in 2017 after spending 37 years with The Wichita Eagle where he held a variety of reporting and editing roles. He also is host of The Range, KMUW’s weekly show about where we live and the people who live here. Tom is a board member of the Public Media Journalists Association, serving as small station representative, a volunteer coach for League 42 and an adjunct instructor in the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University.