An attorney for convicted killer Jason Hachmeister sought Monday to persuade a majority of the Kansas Supreme Court that prosecutor error prevented a fair trial in Shawnee County for a son accused of stabbing, beating and strangling his mother.
Justices of the state's highest court returned for the second time to pleadings by Hachmeister, who was convicted of using twine in the slaying of Sheila Hachmeister on Sept. 10, 2011, in a Topeka home they shared. In 2017, the Supreme Court affirmed his convictions on more than 100 counts of sexual exploitation of a child based on evidence found on his computer during the homicide investigation.
Joseph Desch, representing Hachmeister on the first-degree murder appeal, argued his client was denied a fair trial due to "lots of misstatements of the evidence" by Todd Hiatt, who was the Shawnee County assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case.
Hiatt's remarks about onset of rigor mortis in relation to the time of death went beyond the medical examiner's testimony and served to unfairly erode Hachmeister's alibi, Desch said.
"I would say Mr. Hiatt absolutely took the role of an expert and testified," Desch said. "How far can a prosecutor go?"
Justice Caleb Stegall and retired Court of Appeals Judge Patrick McAnany, who temporarily filled the Supreme Court's seventh seat, pushed back against Desch's assertion Hiatt did anything improper by pointing to a morning time of death.
"There's lots of other evidence that supports the morning time frame for the killing," McAnany said.
Hachmeister, 44, told authorities that he didn't commit the crime and that he discovered his mom's body after returning from errands. He'd entered a plea of not guilty before the murder trial.
Jodi Litfin, an assistant solicitor general in the office of the Kansas attorney general, said none of the Shawnee County prosecutor's statements at trial fell into the realm of cumulative error inhibiting a fair trial. She said Hiatt's comments on a likely time of death were based on "reasonable inferences" drawn from evidence about stiffening of the victim's joints and muscles after death.
In addition, Litfin said, the investigation showed no sign of forced entry and that the family dog was let out of the house twice on the day of the slaying. Selected items of interest to Hachmeister were stolen from the home, Litfin said, but the residence wasn't ransacked in search of valuables.
Litfin said the defendant's DNA was found on rope used to strangle Sheila Hachmeister, but the defendant told law enforcement officers he never touched the rope. She said blood was found underneath the defendant's computer desk in the basement and on the interior floor of the house — not outside the residence.
Litfin, who's presentation to the Supreme Court was interrupted by a false fire alarm, said the unemployed Hachmeister had financial motive to commit murder because his mother was contemplating kicking him out of the house.
During the investigation, 17 anonymous letters were mailed to authorities that raised suspicion about Hachmeister as the perpetrator. Trial testimony indicated Hachmeister bragged of the killing to a strip-club manager and to an exotic dancer, Litfin said.
In rebuttal argument before the Supreme Court, Desch said Hachmeister may have boastfully confessed to the crime in a foolish bid to be the focus of attention. It is among several "very unusual" things Hachmeister did that didn't help his cause at trial, Desch said.
"Unfortunately, my client's outrageous behavior ... made this a sensational and theatrical trial," Desch said. "He made some statements to some exotic dancers. He allegedly wrote the letters which implicated him as well. We can all agree that Mr. Hachmeister was an unusual person, and possibly childlike."
In 2017, the Supreme Court threw out a 2013 kidnapping conviction of Osi Bisa McBride because Hiatt violated McBride's rights to a fair trial by making improper remarks to the jury during closing argument.