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Two Area Cases Before Kansas Supreme Court Wednesday


By Lucky Kidd


RENO/MCPHERSON COUNTY, Kan. — The appeal of a Hutchinson man convicted of shooting to death Jose Morales in August 2015 during what was reported to be a drug deal gone bad will be heard by the Kansas Supreme Court Wednesday.

A Reno County District Court Jury convicted Brennan Trass of felony murder and criminal possession of a firearm in April 2019 at the conclusion of a trial where he mostly represented himself. During the trial, Trass was removed from the courtroom after Reno County District Judge Trish Rose denied motions to allow introduction of unredacted videos in the case and declined to answer if he would testify in his own defense, which is one of several issues on which the appeal is based.

On August 17, 2015, Trass called 911 and reported shooting Jose Morales in self-defense after going to Morales’ house in the 300 Block of East 7th to buy methamphetamine. The self-defense claim is one of the issues that is part of the appeal, specifically whether Judge Rose erred by not allowing a self-defense instruction to be included in jury instructions after earlier granting a prosecution motion to not allow it based on a drug transaction being involved.

While Trass entered a not guilty plea to the charges in February 2016, it took over three years for the case to come to trial due to multiple defense attorneys withdrawing from the case because of various conflicts, some of which involved attorneys having previously represented witnesses in prior proceedings. At one point, a plea offer was extended where Trass would have pleaded to a reduced charge of involuntary manslaughter, which he rejected. His attorney at the time delayed notifying prosecutors of that rejection.

The last two of his court-appointed attorneys withdrew less than two weeks prior to Trass’ trial due to a deterioration of relations, stemming in part from their not pursuing a speedy trial claim, which is one of the issues subject to the appeal.

After telling Trass he would have to represent himself since there were no other attorneys left to appoint, Judge Rose ordered one of his last attorneys, Bobby Hiebert of Salina, to remain on the case as standby counsel (another point of the appeal). Related to that, Trass claimed Judge Rose improperly waived his right to counsel without a knowing or intelligent waiver of it. Judge Rose’s action was based in part of a Court of Appeals opinion on this subject issued the week before.

After a week and a half trial, Trass was found guilty and sentenced to a controlling term of life without possibility of parole for 638 months.
Other issues raised in the appeal, in which he is being represented by Capital Appellate Defender Clayton Perkins, include whether there was insufficient evidence to convict Trass of felony murder “while” possessing methamphetamine because all of the evidence showed that Trass did not take control of the methamphetamine until after the shooting; and whether cumulative error denied Trass a fair trial.


A second area case will be heard by the Kansas Supreme Court Wednesday.

This case from McPherson County involves a theft case where a charge against Matthew Munoz was dismissed by a McPherson County District Court judge on grounds prosecutors did not bring him to trial within 180 days of his filing under the Mandatory Disposition of Detainers Act. The Kansas Court of Appeals reversed that ruling after prosecutors appealed claiming the act did not apply in Munoz’s case.