No preliminary hearing set in capital murder case

John Richmeier
The Leavenworth Times
Donald R. Jackson Jr.

A judge said he will not push parties to set a preliminary hearing in a Leavenworth County capital murder case.

Donald R. Jackson Jr., 41, is charged with capital murder for allegedly killing his two sons, ages 12 and 14. The bodies of the boys were found Oct. 24, 2020, at a residence on Hillside Road near Lansing.

Jackson appeared Thursday in Leavenworth County District Court with two of the attorneys who are representing him.

Judges rely on evidence presented during preliminary hearings to determine if there is probable cause to bind over cases for trials.

Defense attorney Kelson Bohnet asked District Judge Gerald Kuckelman to wait to schedule a preliminary hearing in Jackson's case.

Assistant County Attorney Megan Williams said she was not requesting that a preliminary hearing be scheduled at this time.

Kuckelman noted the defendant has a right to a preliminary hearing. But the judge said he will not push the parties on the matter.

"This is far from a typical case," he said.

In requesting a delay in setting a preliminary hearing, Bohnet said the defense team is still waiting on some of the items it requested from the prosecution through the discovery process.

Williams said the prosecution is in communication with the defense regarding discovery. She said the prosecution is waiting on some information that will be coming from outside the state of Kansas.

Bohnet also expressed concern about a spike in COVID-19 cases. He suggested a preliminary hearing in the case may draw a larger crowd than the few people who were in the courtroom for Thursday's hearing.

Kuckelman said his docket is clogged at the moment. He recently resumed having jury trials after they were placed on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The judge said a preliminary hearing in Jackson's case may take multiple days.

During Thursday's hearing, the parties discussed having an evidentiary hearing regarding an anticipated objection to subpoenas that will be issued by the defense. However, a date for this hearing has not yet been set.

Bohnet said he wanted to check on the availability of a witness that likely will be called by the defense team to testify during the hearing,

Kuckelman granted a motion to allow the defense team to file the subpoenas under seal.

According to the written motion, the subpoenas are for documents from the Leavenworth County Sheriff's Office, Lansing Police Department and Leavenworth Police Department.

Bohnet acknowledged that the prosecution likely questioning the relevancy of the subpoenas.

Williams said she did not object to the subpoenas being filed under seal. But she anticipates the prosecution will file an objection on other grounds.

Bohnet also argued Thursday that his client should be allowed to wear civilian clothes when appearing in court.

Jackson remains in custody at the Leavenworth County Jail without bond. He appeared for Thursday's hearing in jail clothing with his wrisshackled.

Bohnet said the defense team can provide civilian clothing to the Leavenworth County Jail for his client.

Kuckelman said he has never seen a court ruling ordering a defendant be allowed to dress in civilian clothing other than for a jury trial. The judge said he is reluctant to place a burden on the Sheriff's Office, which operates the jail.

Bohnet said he has not received significant pushback on the issue from jails in other cases.

Williams said she does not have an objection to Jackson being allowed to wear civilian clothes during hearings.

Kuckelman said he will review written information provided by the defense and make a ruling on the issue.

One issue that was resolved Thursday concerned a subpoena issued by Jackson's attorneys for documents related to a 2019 child custody case.

Kevin Reardon, an attorney who performed an investigation for the 2019 case, filed a motion to quash the subpoena from Jackson's attorneys because he had been ordered to keep the documents confidential.

Reardon withdrew his motion ahead of Thursday's hearing in anticipation of a protective order from Kuckelman.

The order provides guidelines regarding how information collected from the subpoena can be used.

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