Resentencing in murder case delayed for jury trial

John Richmeier
The Leavenworth Times
Matthew Astorga

Resentencing for a man who was convicted of a 2008 murder in Leavenworth is being delayed until jury trials can resume in Leavenworth County.

Matthew Astorga’s resentencing for a first-degree murder will require a jury. And Leavenworth County District Court is awaiting approval from the Kansas Supreme Court to resume jury trials during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A status hearing was held Monday in Astorga’s case. The hearing was conducted using an online videoconferencing. Astorga participated from the Leavenworth County Jail.

Astorga, 43, was convicted of the murder charge 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 once again 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.

During Monday’s status hearing, Senior Judge Gunnar Sundby said parties are stuck in both cases until a plan for resuming jury trials in Leavenworth County is approved by the Kansas Supreme Court.

County Attorney Todd Thompson said he has heard speculation that trials may resume in Leavenworth County early next year, but this is only speculation.

Sundby scheduled another hearing for Jan. 11 to see if jury trials have resumed at that time.

Astorga also has requested to have an attorney appointed to represent him in a civil case that is challenging his treatment at the Leavenworth County Jail.

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 attorney who was appointed to handle the appeal of the writ of habeas corpus case has filed a motion to withdraw. A hearing on that motion is scheduled for Dec. 17, according to court records.

Sundby is not assigned to the writ of habeas corpus case.

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