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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Leavenworth murder case heads back to court for re-sentencing

  • The Kansas Supreme Court has vacated a "Hard 50" sentence in a Leavenworth murder case.
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  • The Kansas Supreme Court has vacated a "Hard 50" sentence in a Leavenworth murder case.
    The case of Matthew Astorga, 36, is being remanded back to Leavenworth County District Court for re-sentencing.
    Astorga was convicted in 2009 in Leavenworth County District Court of premeditated first-degree murder. The judge imposed a life sentence with no possibility of parole for 50 years under the state's "Hard 50" law.
    Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a case from Virginia, Alleyne v. United States, that jurors, not judges, should weigh whether the facts of a case warrant minimum sentences.
    Following this decision, the U.S. Supreme Court remanded an appeal from Astorga to the Kansas Supreme Court for review.
    In a unanimous decision released Friday, the state's highest court vacated Astorga's "Hard 50" sentence.
    Astorga was convicted of the shooting death of Ruben Rodriguez. Rodriguez was shot Dec. 26, 2008, in Leavenworth.
    Following the shooting, Astorga led a Leavenworth police officer on a pursuit. When Astorga was apprehended, a firearm was recovered from his vehicle. He had a previous felony conviction making possession of the firearm a crime.
    He was convicted of the murder charge at trial. He pleaded guilty to criminal possession of a firearm and fleeing or attempting to elude a law enforcement officer.
    In 2012, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld Astorga's conviction as well as his "Hard 50" sentence.
    But in light of last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision, the Kansas Supreme Court now concludes that Astorga's Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial was violated by the district judge's imposition of the "Hard 50" sentence.
    In September, Kansas lawmakers met for a special legislative session to fix the state's "Hard 50" sentencing law so that it would be in line with the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling.
    In its decision to remand the Astorga case for re-sentencing, the Kansas Supreme Court noted the prosecution has argued Astorga should be re-sentenced under the amended "Hard 50" law. But, Astorga has argued that retroactive application of the new sentencing law would be unconstitutional.
    The Kansas Supreme Court did not offer guidance regarding which course of action to take.
    "Our decision does not prevent the parties from presenting their respective arguments regarding application of the amended hard 50 scheme to the district court at re-sentencing," wrote Justice Nancy Moritz, who drafted the opinion for the Kansas Supreme Court.

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