The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday upheld the convictions of a man serving life in prison for the murder of an El Dorado teenager who led a secret life as an Internet porn model.
The justices unanimously rejected an appeal from Israel G. Mireles, who sought a new trial on charges of rape and capital murder. Mireles, now 29, fled to Mexico after the crimes occurred, and officials there would not return him to the U.S. unless prosecutors did not seek the death penalty.
He was sentenced to life with no chance of parole for the November 2007 stabbing and strangulation of Emily Sander. The 18-year-old Butler County Community College student was killed in an El Dorado motel room that Mireles, then 24, had been renting while working in the south-central Kansas community.
The case received national attention because it was later revealed that Sander also was known on the Internet as porn model Zoey Zane. The two met at a bar hours before Sander's death and went to Mireles' motel room.
Mireles' attorney argued that Butler County District Judge David Ricke made an error in not specifically instructing jurors that they could conclude the murder wasn't premeditated and convict Mireles of the lesser crime of felony murder, or a killing during the commission of a felony.
Capital appellate defender Debra Wilson argued that jurors could have concluded that Mireles was too intoxicated to have intended to kill the young woman.
In the Supreme Court's opinion, Justice Eric Rosen conceded that such an instruction would have been "appropriate" but added that the legal standard on appeal is whether, even with the extra instruction, the jury would have reached the same result. Prosecutors presented evidence that Sander was sodomized, stabbed multiple times and strangled with a phone cord, and the high court said jurors determined from those facts that her killing was premeditated.
"Accordingly, we conclude that even if the jury would have received an instruction on felony murder, the jury would have still convicted Mireles of capital murder," Rosen wrote.
Wilson did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment Friday. The Kansas attorney general's office also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mireles' attorney also argued that jurors should not have been allowed to view grisly photos from Sander's autopsy. And during arguments in March before the high court, Justice Lee Johnson suggested that admitting the photos as trial evidence was "certainly pushing the envelope."
The Supreme Court ultimately concluded that the photos documented Sanders' injuries and helped establish that her murder was premeditated.