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In Wichita, Kansas, today, Dennis Rader was formally arraigned on 10 counts of murder. He is the man police say is the BTK serial killer, responsible for a string of murders reaching back more than 30 years. From Wichita, NPR's Greg Allen reports.
GREG ALLEN reporting:
By now people in Wichita are used to Dennis Rader's placid, unassuming demeanor. Rader is the 60-year-old municipal employee arrested in February and charged with 10 murders in Wichita between 1974 and 1991. At his arraignment today, Rader was dressed in a navy blue blazer and sat quietly conferring with his court-appointed attorneys. He chose not to enter a plea, so Judge Gregory Waller entered one for him; not guilty on all 10 counts of murder. But then there was an unusual exchange, when District Attorney Nola Foulston was given permission by the court to address Rader directly.
Ms. NOLA FOULSTON (District Attorney, Wichita): Are you Dennis Rader?
Mr. DENNIS RADER: Yes, ma'am.
Ms. FOULSTON: Mr. Rader, I'm District Attorney Nola Foulston, and...
ALLEN: Foulston told Rader if found guilty, he would be sentenced separately for the 1991 murder of 62-year-old Dolores Davis, who was abducted from her home in Park City, Kansas, and found strangled two weeks later. That murder occurred after Kansas adopted a hard 40 law. Under that law, people convicted of crimes with aggravating circumstances must serve 40 years before being eligible for parole. Foulston said in this case, the murder of Dolores Davis was done in, quote, "an especially cruel, atrocious or heinous matter."
Ms. FOULSTON: The term `heinous' means a strict--especially wicked or shockingly evil. `Atrocious' means outrageously wicked, vile, cruel, including pitiless or designed to inflict a high degree of pain.
ALLEN: Nearly 15 years after the last known murder, feelings still run high in Wichita about the person who terrorized an entire city in the 1970s and '80s. The murders began in 1974, when four members of the Otero family were killed in their home. Six other murders followed. In mailings to the news media, a person calling himself BTK--for `bind, torture, kill'--claimed responsibility for the murders, providing convincing details, even drawings, of the crime scenes.
After more than a decade of silence, shortly after the 30th anniversary of the first known murders, BTK resumed contacting the media, sending packages that contained items presumably taken from the crime scenes, including the driver's license of one of his victims. Those packages are what finally led police to Dennis Rader, a municipal employee in Park City.
Rader's attorneys said little in court today, and afterwards didn't speak to reporters. But they have said they make seek a change of venue for the trial. Any trial is several months, maybe a year away, and there might not be a trial at all. Prosecutors are believed to have DNA evidence linking Rader to the crimes. If he chooses later to plead guilty, the case would move almost directly to the sentencing phase. But Wichita District Attorney Nola Foulston says she's eager to try the case.
Ms. FOULSTON: Because it is important after 30 years for people to know and for people to understand and appreciate not only the work of law enforcement, but to be able to say, `It's over. It's over.'
ALLEN: If convicted, Dennis Rader wouldn't be eligible for capital punishment because all of the murders occurred before Kansas reinstituted the death penalty. But a hard 40 years for the 60-year-old Rader would be, in effect, a life sentence. At the end of the hearing, as Rader was being taken from the courtroom, a family member of one of the victims said loudly, `Don't worry. You won't live that long.' Greg Allen, NPR News, Wichita.
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