Capital charge filed in Topeka officer’s death

Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor. (File - AP Photo/The Topeka Capital Journal, Chris Neal)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A 30-year-old man has been charged with capital murder in connection with the killing of a Kansas police officer during a car stop.

The death penalty will be sought for Ross Preston Lane in the shooting death of Topeka police Cpl. Jason Harwood, Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor said Wednesday. The charge against Lane of Topeka was filed late Tuesday.

Harwood, 40, a decorated, 15-year police veteran, was shot after he pulled Lane’s car over Sunday in east Topeka, Taylor said.

“We lost a great man and a dedicated police officer,” the district attorney said.

Another man, Randy Allen Ridens Jr., also 30 and from Topeka, has been charged with obstructing the apprehension of a felon and possession of stolen property. Police have said Ridens gave Lane a ride on a stolen motorcycle after Lane fled.

Kansas law allows the death penalty for the premeditated killing of a law enforcement officer, though life in prison with no chance of parole is an alternative sentence in capital cases. Taylor said during a news conference that Harwood was in uniform and using a marked car with police lights, so there could be no doubt that the shooter was targeting an officer.

“In my mind, there was no question that this would qualify,” Taylor said of the death penalty.

Lane appeared in court Wednesday by video from the Shawnee County jail, where he is being held without bond. His attorney, Ron Evans, chief of the state’s death penalty defense unit, declined comment by phone. Lane has another hearing scheduled Sept. 25.

Ridens, whose bond was set at $1 million, is being held at a different jail. Authorities haven’t disclosed which one. A hearing for him is scheduled for Sept. 18. His court-appointed attorney did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

Harwood was the third Topeka police officer to die on duty in the last two years. In December 2012, Cpl. David Gogian and Officer Jeff Atherly were investigating reported drug activity at a grocery store when they were fatally shot.

Lane also is charged with possession of stolen property and illegal possession of a firearm, both felonies. The stolen property charge is in connection to the .40-caliber semi-automatic handgun that police say he used to shoot the officer. The firearm charge stems from Lane being a felon who allegedly possessed a gun because he previously served prison time on a felony attempted criminal threat charge from Butler County.

Taylor declined to discuss why Harwood stopped Lane’s car, who else was in the vehicle during the shooting or a possible motive for the shooting, saying the investigation is ongoing. Taylor said Harwood was wearing a protective vest but declined to comment on where in the body the officer was shot.

Harwood was shot four times.

Lane surrendered to authorities Sunday night in Lawrence, about 20 miles east of Topeka. Ridens was taken into custody early Monday in Linwood, about 35 miles east of Topeka.
 


 

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