Keith Hawkins, 20, walked in into district court Friday charged with the murders of a mother and her daughter in Newton, and after an almost 15-minute hearing his fate was all but decided.
Hawkins entered into a plea bargain, one that dismissed two murder charges and counts of failure to register as an offender and took away a possible death sentence. Instead, he pled guilty to one count of capital murder. On that charge, the state has only one sentence to seek when the death penalty is not available — life in prison without parole.
After Hawkins answered a series of questions by Judge Marilyn Wilder, he pleaded guilty to the charge.
"Sir, I find you guilty of capital murder," Wilder said.
She set a sentencing hearing for 1 p.m. Feb. 9.
Hawkins was charged with killing 24-year-old Alyssa Runyon and 4-year-old Zaylynn Paz, found dead Aug. 8 in their home. After fleeing to Texas, Hawkins was returned to Kansas and the Harvey County Jail Aug. 11 and charged with their murders.
Original charges were capital murder and two counts of first-degree murder. Capital murder carries with it a possible death penalty in Kansas. He was also charged in a separate case for failure to register as an offender.
The agreement entered into sweeps away two counts of first-degree murder and charges of failure to register as an offender. Seeking the death penalty also would have required a unanimous verdict6 by a jury of 12 people. Life in prison without parole is the only sentence allowed by state statute now that Hawkins has been found guilty of capital murder.
"The family still is, and will be forever, grieving," said county attorney David Yoder.
Under the terms of the agreement, Hawkins will write a statement for the family of why he committed the crime. That is a unique part of the agreement, one that Yoder said he has never seen in more than 35 years as a prosecutor.
Yoder said the family was consulted at length prior to placing the plea agreement on the table.
"We did not make this decision in a vacuum," Yoder said. "We had quite a few meetings with the family. ... We did not take this plea without considering the family's interest."
According to Yoder, Hawkins both beat and strangled Runyon before she died.
"She was essentially beaten to death," Yoder said.
Her daughter was stabbed multiple times.
"I have tried capital murder cases before," Yoder said. "I have handled I don't know how many thousands of cases in my lifetime. I don't think I have ever seen an egregious, painful and as senseless case as what we have dealt with here."
It is still unclear how Hawkins knew Runyon and Paz. Yoder called them "acquaintances."
He said to the family of Runyon and Paz, Hawkins was an "unknown entity." It is believed that Runyon had allowed Hawkins to stay in her home, but details are unclear.
"She agreed to put him up, and then the horror happened," Yoder said.
After murdering Runyon and Paz, Hawkins fled south. He was arrested in Texas after a car chase. Newton Police identified Hawkins as a suspect quickly, and knew where he was throughout his attempt to flee to another state.
"Investigators were able to track him .... and this led to his quick arrest," said Eric Murphy, Newton Chief of Police.
Yoder said NPD's work led to a case that was, ultimately, "successful."
He was brought back to Newton quickly, charged with the murders and placed in jail. He remains there until sentencing when he will likely be remanded to a larger prison.
"Let us not forget that on Aug. 8 two people brutally lost their lives," Murphy said. "Let us also remember their families while they are still grieving."
And still, the family is asking why this happened.
They may find out Feb. 9.
That statement will not be released to the public.