Attorney seeks to bar evidence of racist comment

John Richmeier
The Leavenworth Times
Renee Johnson-Fritz

An attorney for a woman who is charged in Leavenworth County with solicitation of capital murder is seeking to exclude a racist comment made by the defendant from being used at her trial.

Renee Johnson-Fritz, 44, Kansas City, Missouri, is charged with solicitation of capital murder in connection to an April 9, 2019, attack on an inmate at the Lansing Correctional Facility.

Prosecutors allege the attack was ordered by Johnson-Fritz’s husband, who was an inmate at the El Dorado Correctional Facility at the time. Johnson-Fritz is accused of forwarding a portion of a letter she received from her husband to an inmate at LCF who then allegedly carried out the attack on the victim. The victim survived the attack.

Johnson-Fritz’s attorney, Joel Rook, filed a motion seeking to prevent the introduction of evidence regarding communication the defendant had with her husband or other inmates involving matters unrelated to the solicitation of capital murder charge.

Speaking during a hearing Friday, Rook said this would include a Facebook conversation in which his client reportedly made a racist statement about someone who had a hand in getting the defendant fired from a job.

Rook expressed concern prosecutors may attempt to introduce this evidence to support an allegation the defendant is involved in a white supremacist gang.

“My impression is that they want to prove that Ms. Johnson has a gang affiliation,” Rook said.

Assistant County Attorney Megan Williams said Rook’s request regarding “unrelated matters” is very vague.

Williams said she will ask to admit evidence the defendant is affiliated with the Aryan Brotherhood.

“It is evidence that is relevant to this case,” she said.

Williams said she also may file a motion to seek introduction of evidence of other crimes or civil wrongs.

Williams said she was not sure what comment Rook was referring to when he mentioned the racist statement.

District Judge Gerald Kuckelman said evidence of a connection to the Aryan Brotherhood seems like part of the alleged conspiracy in the case.

“And that all seems like it would be relevant,” he said.

Kuckelman said he will reserve making a ruling on Rook’s motion until Williams has filed a motion regarding other crimes or civil wrongs. He said this will provide more specifics about what the prosecution intends to introduce and what the defense attorney may object to.

Rook also requested a new bond for Johnson-Fritz during Friday’s hearing.

Johnson-Fritz previously was released on a $100,000 bond. But her bond was revoked after she sent a letter to an inmate at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility.

This was considered a violation of her bond because the judge had ordered her to have no contact with Kansas Department of Corrections employees or inmates.

Rook asked Friday that his client be released on her own recognizance or a $10,000 bond.

The defense attorney said Johnson-Fritz is having mental health issues. And faced with a possible prison sentence, she would like to set up guardianship for her daughter.

Rook also said his client had misunderstood the judge’s earlier order.

Williams asked that the bond for Johnson-Fritz be at least $200,000.

Kuckelman said he does not know what the defendant could have misunderstood about his order.

The judge set bond at $200,000. Kuckelman told Johnson-Fritz that, if she posts the new bond, she cannot communicate in any way with inmates or employees of Kansas correctional facilities.

“I don’t know how I can make it clearer,” he said.

Friday’s hearing was conducted using the Zoom online videoconferencing service.

Zoom is being used for many proceedings in Leavenworth County District Court because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Johnson-Fritz’s husband, Frederick Fritz, also was scheduled to appear in court Friday by Zoom.

Fritz also faces a charge of solicitation of capital murder.

Williams said she was informed officials at the El Dorado Correctional Facility could not arrange for the Zoom court appearance because Fritz recently was transferred to the Lansing Correctional Facility.

Williams suggested arranging to have Fritz transported from LCF to the Justice Center for an in-person hearing.

Kuckelman scheduled the in-person hearing for June 23.

Fritz, who is representing himself, has filed several motions in his case.

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