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Opposition protests parole of serial killer Donald Nemechek in June

12/31/2007

By MIKE CORN

Hays Daily News

Hays and northwest Kansas escaped the harshest of crimes this year.

That, however, doesn't mean Hays and northwest Kansas residents didn't have to endure the reality murder.

In fact, this was a year when three families of long-ago victims joined together -- for the first time in Hays -- to protest the parole of serial killer Francis Donald Nemechek.

Their message was clear: Keep Nemechek in prison -- for the rest of his life if at all possible.

The Kansas Parole Board listened to that message in late June. Just 20 days later, the families received the answer they wanted to hear, that Nemechek would remain in prison until at least August 2017.

The Nemechek case wasn't the only murder case of the year to grab headlines, but it was perhaps the most dramatic.

There also was the parole hearing of Steven Carl Holdren, who was convicted in 1985 on a single count of aggravated kidnapping, for the shooting and beating of former Hays resident Jackie Peters.

The board also passed over parole for Holdren, but only until 2012.

There were a couple active criminal cases unfolding during 2007.

In a case that had languished for nearly two years, Kurt J. Stecklein, pleaded guilty to a charge of second-degree murder in connection with the death of Lindsay Nicole Meyers. The plea agreement let Stecklein plead guilty to the unintentional death of Meyers on Oct. 8, 2004, the night of Oktoberfest.

He ultimately was sentenced to 14 years in prison, but was given credit for the 839 days he already had served in the Ellis County jail awaiting trial. As a result, Stecklein could be eligible for release in less than 12 years.

In yet another case promising to take a while to complete, the trial for David S. Knapp is scheduled to begin March 17 in Ellis County District Court. Nine days have been set aside for the hearing.

Knapp is facing charges of first-degree murder-inherently dangerous felony, distribution of an opiate drug -- fentanyl -- and possession of cocaine. The charges are in connection with the Oct. 30, 2006, death of Frank A. Brown, 46, Gorham, at the Budget Host Villa motel in Hays. His death was a result of an overdose of the drug fentanyl.

The charge contends Knapp killed Brown in the commission of an inherently dangerous felony -- the distribution of the opiate drug fentanyl, often used to control pain in the final stages of cancer. The charge is an off-grid felony that carries the potential of 25 years to life in prison.

The case is sure to move slowly, as the main charge against Knapp has not been used before in the state.

As a result, defense attorney Paul Oller plans to seek dismissal of the charge, saying the distribution of the drug already had taken place before the death occurred. A hearing on that motion is to be heard in January.

The Nemechek case was perhaps the most intensely watched, and for the first time ever, the parole board traveled to Hays to listen to testimony.

Serial killer Nemechek was sentenced to five terms of life in prison for the deaths of Paula Fabrizius, 16, Carla Baker, 20, Cheryl Young, 21, and her 3-year-old son, Guy William Young, and Diane Lynn Lovette, 19.

"Evidently they acted on it pretty quickly," said Mary Jo Walz, a family member of Fabrizius, a park rangerette abducted from Cedar Bluff Reservoir and killed near Castle Rock in Gove County. "I think they heard us."

He was sentenced in 1977, following a trial in Saline County -- moved there after a judge determined he would not be able to get a fair trial in Trego County -- to five terms of life in prison.

Nearly 120 people turned out for the Nemechek hearing at the Hays Public Library in late June. It was a hearing filled with emotion as survivors testified and petitions containing nearly 15,000 signatures were presented to the two board members who attended.

The message from everyone was clear: Nemecheck should stay in prison

"If you let him loose, there's someone around here that's going to wind up in a cemetery," predicted Randall Weller, a former Graham County attorney who helped prosecute Nemechek.

"He should remain in prison for the rest of his life," said Trego County Attorney Dave Harding.

Special-projects coordinator Mike Corn can be reached at (785) 628-1081, Ext. 129, or by e-mail at mcorn@dailynews.net.