2012 was a trying year for the local judicial system

By Katherine Wartell

Fortunately for the citizens of Riley County, 2012 was a relatively quiet year for violent crime. But Riley County District Court was kept busy resolving several murders from previous years, including a capital case from 2009.

The year began in tragedy with the murder of Frederick Beverly, a 21-year-old Kansas National Guard member. Beverly was killed in a drive-by shooting in the early hours of New Year’s Day while he manned the door to the Fair Lane clubhouse of the Assassin Street Rydaz, a motorcycle club of which he was a member. At the time of the shooting, club members were celebrating the new year at the clubhouse.

Within a week, Riley County officers arrested Daniel Parker, 26, a Fort Riley soldier who had already completed two tours in Iraq, for the murder.

According to detectives and court testimony, Parker had argued with members of the motorcycle club earlier that evening in a bar in Aggieville.

Parker has made several court appearances throughout the year. In November, he pleaded not guilty and will go to trial in April 2013.

Several murder cases were settled in 2012, the first being the murder of Kevin Cockrum, a combat medic and father of five who was beaten to death in Aggieville in August 2011.

In May, Justin Taylor was sentenced to 59 months for the voluntary manslaughter of Cockrum, who died of extensive head trauma after he was knocked unconscious by Levertis Horne, an acquaintance of Taylor. Charges against Horne in the incident were dropped. Cockrum was subsequently hit over the head twice by Taylor, leading to his conviction.

The incident occurred after Horne reportedly shouted an expletive at the woman with whom Cockrum was walking.

Though initially pleading not guilty, Taylor accepted a plea agreement in April that reduced his original charge of second degree murder to voluntary manslaughter.

In May, Taylor was also sentenced for the 2010 rape of a Manhattan woman, for which he received 155 months. Taylor is currently serving his roughly 18-year prison sentence.

In June, Riley County’s first capital case in at least 40 years went to trial. Luis Aguirre, 24, was found guilty of capital murder but he was not given the death sentence.

Aguirre was convicted of murdering his former girlfriend Tanya Maldonado, 18, and their 13-month-old son Juan in Aguirre’s Ogden apartment on Sep. 21, 2009. Aguirre and Maldonado lived in separate cities prior to the murders, but emails submitted as evidence between the two showed that Maldonado repeatedly requested help from Aguirre in regard to their son.

Prosecutors argued Aguirre planned the murders once he began viewing Maldonado and Juan as burdens on him. 

Maldonado had been living in Chicago with her son in a homeless shelter when Aguirre agreed to pick them up and take them to his home in Ogden. There, according to court testimony, he suffocated both of them. Aguirre then buried their bodies in a shallow grave in Ogden. The discovery of that grave launched the investigation.

During his trial, Aguirre maintained that the deaths were an accident, but testimony from a biology professor at Kansas State University who examined the gravesite suggested the graves had been dug a few days in advance, lending credence to the prosecution’s argument that the murders were planned. Aguirre’s trial was separated into phases. In the first, jurors found him guilty of capital murder and in the second, they determined that Aguirre should be given life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In September, another high-profile murder case was settled when Cole Drake, 16, accepted a plea agreement only days prior to what should have been the start of his first-degree murder trial for shooting and killing Tyler Dowling, 14, in April 2011.

Drake was sentenced to 165 months for the intentional second-degree murder of Dowling. He was also sentenced to 59 months for aggravated robbery and 6 months each for six counts of vehicular burglary, those to be served consecutively. That totals roughly 21.6 years in prison, the maximum sentence sought by the prosecution.

In addition to the intentional second-degree murder conviction, Drake was convicted of aggravated robbery for taking Dowling’s cell phone after he shot him twice; and six counts of vehicular burglary, those charges stemming from incidents that occurred on April 12, 2011 and Dec. 24, 2010 in which Drake burglarized parked vehicles.

Though 14 at the time of the murder, Drake was convicted as an adult. In a taped interview with Riley County detectives conducted a day after Dowling’s body was found, Drake confessed to shooting Dowling, 14, once in the back of his head and then once again, fatally, in his back, in a field near Eisenhower Middle School.

In the confession, which Drake’s defense attempted to suppress, Drake told detectives he shot Dowling in order to impress another friend to whom, he said, he had more allegiance.

The murder of Steve Freel, 31, killed in December 2011, was also settled with a plea agreement signed between the state and Michael Layne, 21, in November.

Riley County police officials said Freel and Layne were former associates whose relationship soured when tensions escalated following an investigation into crimes the men allegedly committed together in the Manhattan area.

In a previous hearing, prosecutors said Layne had argued with Freel, 31, on the afternoon of Dec. 6, 2011, before driving Freel to a rural road in the 5300 block of N. 48 Street, forcing him out of the car and shooting him with a .45-caliber handgun.

Layne acquired the gun from his boss, Domingo Soto. In October, Soto went to trial for aiding and abetting Freel’s murder and because Kansas law does not differentiate between the two, Soto was convicted of first-degree murder.

In an interesting turn of events, Layne, sentenced to roughly 24 years in prison, received less time than Soto, who was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole after 25 years.

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