Man convicted of murder appears in court

John Richmeier
The Leavenworth Times

A man who was convicted of murder in 2009 in Leavenworth was back in court Thursday.

This time, Matthew Astorga was in court for a case in which he is challenging his treatment at the Leavenworth County Jail.

Astorga, 43, is being held at the county jail as he awaits resentencing in his murder case. Another criminal case also is pending against him.

Last year, a judge denied Astorga’s petition for relief through what is known as a writ of habeas corpus.

Astorga appealed the judge’s decision. Last month, the Kansas Court of Appeals released a decision that remands the case back to Leavenworth County for further review.

The appellate judges ruled the district court judge should have considered a couple of factors that have been established through prior court decisions.

The district judge who previously was assigned the writ of habeas corpus is now retired. And the case is now before District Judge Gerald Kuckelman.

While the Court of Appeals released the opinion last month, Kuckelman said Thursday that he had not yet officially received the mandate from the appellate court.

Kuckelman granted a motion allowing attorney Chadler Colgan to withdraw from the case. Colgan had been appointed to represent Astorga during the appeal.

Kuckelman scheduled another hearing in the case for Jan. 21.

Thursday’s hearing was conducted using an online videoconferencing service. Astorga made his court appearance from the Leavenworth County Jail.

Astorga was convicted of the first-degree murder in 2009. The charge stemmed from the Dec. 26, 2008, shooting death of Ruben Rodriguez in Leavenworth.

Astorga initially was sentenced to what is known as the Hard 50, which meant he was required to serve at least 50 years in prison before being eligible for parole.

However, Astorga now has to be resentenced because the state’s old Hard 50 law was struck down following a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Following this decision, state lawmakers passed a new Hard 50 law. And prosecutors are seeking a Hard 50 sentence for Astorga under the new law. The new Hard 50 sentencing process requires a jury.

Astorga also is awaiting a jury trial for a case in which he is accused of battery on a county corrections officer. This crime is alleged to have occurred July 15, 2014, at the Leavenworth County Jail.

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