A Wilson man entered a plea agreement Thursday in Ellis County District Court in which he agreed to offer a sworn statement against his co-defendant stepfather in an alleged February kidnapping and robbery.
Tanner Lee Cullens, 21, entered no contest pleas to three of the five original charges against him. Before the plea hearing, Cullens gave his sworn testimony in a closed session of court that lasted about an hour, pushing the scheduled time of the 1:30 p.m. hearing back about half an hour.
In exchange, Ellis County Attorney Tom Drees agreed not to file any additional charges against Cullens arising from testimony in the case and to dismiss special sentencing rules that, on conviction, would have required registration as an offender with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
Cullens pleaded to amended charges of aggravated robbery, aggravated intimidation of a witness and aggravated battery, all felonies. The charges were amended to remove the use of a firearm, which dropped special sentencing rules for felony committed with a firearm and felony committed with a deadly weapon.
Those rules carry a presumptive prison sentence and offender registration upon conviction, no matter the defendant’s criminal history.
Charges of aggravated kidnapping and aggravated battery were dismissed in the plea.
Recommended sentencing is 59 months in prison for the aggravated robbery charge and 18 months in prison for the intimidation charge, to run consecutively for a total of 71 months. A suggested sentence of 12 months in prison for the battery charge would be served concurrently.
Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 5. Cullens remains in custody in the Ellis County Jail. A jury trial had been scheduled for Aug. 28 to 30.
Cullen’s stepfather, Jeremy Schulmeister, 33, also faces the same original charges — aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery, aggravated intimidation of a witness, aggravated assault and aggravated battery — all with the special sentencing rules.
The charges allege that Cullens offered a ride to an acquaintance who was walking to Cunningham Hall on the Fort Hays State University campus on the night of Feb. 7.
The 20-year-old man testified in preliminary hearings for both defendants in March that instead of taking him to campus, Cullens drove south of town on 240th Avenue and then east on Spring Hill Road, more than a mile south of Hays.
As the car slowed down, the man said, the back seat of Cullens’ car folded down and another man, whom he later identified from a police photo lineup as Schulmeister, emerged from the trunk with a large silver handgun.
The alleged victim said he believed a second person also emerged from the trunk and felt two guns pressed against the back of his head, but police have not been able to identify a third suspect.
The man testified Cullens also pointed a gun at his face, then put it down and removed the cash and iPhone from his hoodie pocket, took his hat and demanded his shoes.
The driver then showed the man a picture of a body in a tub of acid and told the alleged victim if he told anyone what happened, he and his family would be killed.
The man testified he was then ordered out of the car, and he jumped out while it was traveling about 30 mph. He said he ran back to Hays in his socks, sweatpants and T-shirt in temperatures under 10 degrees until a passerby picked him up near the agricultural research center.
The Kansas Highway Patrol later located Cullen at his residence in Wilson and obtained a search warrant. About $1,800 in cash and clothing matching what the man said was stolen were found at the residence.
Drees, giving the statement of fact from the arrest affidavit in Thursday’s hearing, said Cullen told a KHP trooper that he stole the money and knew it was wrong.
Schulmeister also remains in custody in the Ellis County Jail. His trial is scheduled for Sept. 17 to 20.
Schulmeister also faces a charge of aggravated battery, great bodily harm, filed June 6 for punching another inmate in the face and breaking his nose.