For six months the family of 24-year-old Alyssa Runyon and 4-year-old Zaylynn Paz had waited to talk to Keith Hawkins — a young man who killed the mother and daughter in their Newton home Aug. 8.
That wait came to an end Feb. 9 during a sentencing hearing at the Harvey County Courthouse. Four family members spoke during open court. Each expressed sorrow, anger and rage over the crime Hawkins committed. Some made veiled threats against the man who they see as having taken precious lives away from them.
Runyon's grandmother, Denise Good, was the most eloquent — and summed up the family anger succinctly.
"I loved those girls with all my heart," Good said. "Alyssa was my first-born grandchild. I was with her at the birth of Zaylynn. Zaylynn was only four years old. You took their lives as if they were nothing. They were something — they were part of my family and my family mean everything to me. What you took can never be replaced."
Hawkins listened. He remained stoic.
"You sir, are not bad. You are evil," Good said. "If anyone deserved to die it is you, but I could not agree to such an action, as that would make me your equal. Something I will never do. I am content in knowing that you will be in prison for the rest of your life."
Hawkins was sentenced to life in prison, with no parole. He was ordered to pay restitution of about $6,600.
Hawkins made a brief statement to the court before he was taken to jail.
"I do not expect any forgiveness. I do not expect any mercy. With all my heart, I am sorry. I am not sorry for the sentence I have been given, but I am sorry for the pain and the grief I have caused the Runyon family," Hawkins said. "If there is any day in my life I could take back, it would be that night."
Following the hearing, another wait came to an end. The family received a written statement from Hawkins about the killings — a statement that had been promised during a plea bargain struck that led Hawkins to plead guilty to one count of capital murder and avoid the death penalty.
"That will not be for public dissemination," said David Yoder, Harvey County prosecutor.
Hawkins entered his plea Dec. 8.
The deal dismissed two murder charges and counts of failure to register as an offender and took away a possible death sentence. Avoiding a full trial, 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.
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. Prior to an agreement to take it off the table, the charge carried with it a possible death penalty. He was also charged in a separate case for failure to register as an offender.
The agreement entered into swept 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 verdict by a jury of 12 people. Life in prison without parole is the only sentence allowed by state statute if the dealth penalty can verdict can not be reached for someone found guilty of the crime.
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. That statement will not be released to the public.
According to Yoder, Hawkins both beat and strangled Runyon before she died. Her daughter was stabbed multiple times.
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, leading to his arrest.
He was brought back to Newton, charged with the murders and placed in jail.
Hawkins does have the right to appeal his case within 14 days, however Yoder said if that happens, all original charges and a possible death penalty would be "back on the table."