Two Ellsworth County men arrested in an alleged kidnapping and robbery in February were in Ellis County District Court this week for preliminary hearings on identical charges.
On Wednesday, Tanner Cullens was bound over on all five charges and requested an immediate arraignment, at which he entered a not guilty plea on all charges.
His co-defendent and step father, Jerry Schulmeister, was in court Thursday afternoon for his preliminary hearing. He was bound over on all charges. Arraignment will be scheduled.
Both are charged with aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery, aggravated intimidation of a witness, aggravated assault and aggravated battery.
Cullins and Schulmeister remain in custody in the Ellis County Jail in lieu of $200,000 bond each.
The men allegedly robbed the victim, a 20-year-old man, at gunpoint of $1,800 in cash, his Air Jordan shoes and cap, a Nike hoodie and his iPhone, and forced him out of a car while it was going 30 mph, leaving him several miles from town in cold weather.
On the stand at Thursday’s hearing, the alleged victim, a Fort Hays State University student, said he’d gotten the cash from selling a mounted mule deer rack. He said he didn’t have a bank account and didn’t want to leave the money in his apartment, so he carried it with him. He had posted about the sale on the social media platform SnapChat.
The man said on Feb. 7 he was at a friend’s house near the FHSU campus. He left about 8 p.m., walking to Cunningham Hall on campus.
A car pulled up alongside and the driver offered him a ride. The man said he recognized the driver as Cullens, whom he described as an acquaintance. It was a cold night, so he accepted the ride.
Instead of heading toward campus, however, the driver went south on Elm to Main, then continued south on 240th Avenue.
“I was asking questions and he was not giving me answers I needed. I knew something was wrong,” the man said.
After about 2 miles, the driver turned east onto a chalk road, identified as Spring Hill Road by Detectives Brad Ricke and Brian Shannon of the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office in their testimony.
The man said the driver slowed down and he heard a noise from the back seat. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw the back seat fold down and a man emerged from the trunk, holding a “big, chrome revolver.”
Ricke testified the victim later identified Schulmeister as the man he saw emerging from the trunk in a photo lineup at the Law Enforcement Center, saying he was 60 percent certain of his identification.
The victim said he believed another person also crawled out of the trunk directly behind him, and he felt two guns pressed against the back of his head.
Sheriff’s investigators have not been able to identify a third suspect in the case.
The driver also had a gun, similar but smaller to the one the man said he saw Schulmeister holding, and pointed it at his face. The man testified the driver put the gun down, then reached into the front pocket of his hoodie and removed the cash and his iPhone. The driver then took his hat, and demanded his hoodie and shoes.
The driver then threatened him, the man said.
“If I told anyone he would kill me and my family,” he said, and the driver showed him a picture on a cell phone of a body in a bathtub full of acid.
The driver then told him to get out of the car. The man said he opened the passenger door and and jumped out while the vehicle was traveling about 30 mph.
Photos of the man taken at the Law Enforcement Center showing road rash on the right side of his face and arm were introduced into evidence.
“After I hit the ground, I got up and took off running as fast as I could,” the man said.
In just his socks, sweat pants and a T-shirt, he ran the 1.5 miles back to 240th Avenue, then north back to Hays. His feet were sore and bruised for about two weeks, the man said. The temperature at the time was less than 10 degrees, he said.
Near the Agricultural Research Center on 240th Avenue, a car pulled over and the driver offered him a ride. The man said he had the driver take him back to his friend’s house in Hays, where he could warm up and calm down. The police were then called.
Ricke and Shannon both testified that after interviewing the man, an attempt to locate notice was issued for Cullen. The Kansas Highway Patrol soon located Cullen at his residence in Wilson. The officers then obtained a search warrant for the residence, which was executed early in the morning of Feb. 8.
The detectives testified that during the search, about $1,800 in cash and clothing matching what the man said had been taken from him were found.
No guns were found at the residence, but a holster and items for cleaning guns were found.
A car in the back yard of the house — a 2005 blue Lincoln Continental — had the back seats folded down, Ricke testified. A broken iPhone was found in a compartment of the passenger door. The alleged victim later identified it as his, Ricke said.
A woman who lived at the house testified Thursday that Cullen had asked her to drive his pickup to her job that day. She had returned from her job about 9 p.m. and sat in the truck watching a video on her phone. The Lincoln, a borrowed car her daughter used while hers was in the shop, was not at the house. The woman said Cullen and her daughter were dating.
While she was sitting in the truck, she said, the Lincoln pulled into the back yard, and the interior light came on. She said she saw Cullen and Schulmeister inside the car and they began looking at some money.
“I felt like I was observing something I didn’t need to be observing,” she said, and she got out of the truck and went into the house.
The highway patrol arrived at the house later, and she and her daughter were questioned by the officers.
“This is the first I’m hearing about what happened in Hays,” the woman said.