Suspect in Wichita's BTK serial killings waives preliminary hearing

Probable cause is found for pursuing 10 counts of first-degree murder

April 20, 2005|By P.J. Huffstutter | P.J. Huffstutter,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WICHITA, Kan. - Shuffling into court in leg shackles and wearing a bullet-proof vest under his gray suit, Dennis L. Rader - the man accused of being one of the nation's most infamous serial killers - waived his right to a preliminary hearing yesterday.

Rader stood calmly during his brief appearance before Sedgwick County District Judge Greg Waller, who ruled that there was probable cause for the state to pursue 10 counts of first-degree murder against the man believed to be the BTK killer.

For years, BTK taunted detectives in Wichita with poems, word puzzles and boastful letters - including one in which he declared that there was "no help, no cure" for his sadism "except death or being caught and put away." The abbreviation BTK was coined by the person who wrote the letters to describe his methods: bind, torture, kill.

When Rader was arrested in late February, there was both shock and relief in this city that had feared BTK for 31 years. Rader, 60, is being held at the Sedgwick County jail in lieu of $10 million bail.

A one-time Cub Scout leader and city ordinance enforcement officer from suburban Park City, Rader graduated with a degree in criminal justice in 1979 from Wichita State University. Investigators, who have compared Rader's DNA with semen that BTK left at some crime scenes, say the serial killer was familiar with the work of a professor at the university.

A preliminary hearing would have required only that prosecutors offer enough proof to establish probable cause. Some legal experts had expected the hearing would take as long as 10 days because of the large number of murder counts. But Rader's court appearance lasted only a few minutes.

"Considering the low burden of proof, we didn't think there would be anything new that would come out anyway," said Steve Osburn, Rader's lead defense attorney. "We didn't think there was much to be gained by having a preliminary hearing."

More than a dozen family members and friends of BTK's victims sat inside the small courtroom yesterday. Throughout the proceedings, they stared at Rader, who was surrounded by security guards.

Other relatives, some of whom had traveled from out of state specifically for the hearing, watched a video-feed from a room elsewhere inside the courthouse.

Afterward, the family members filed quietly out of the courthouse, declining to comment.

Rader's arraignment is set for May 3. Osburn said his client is expected to enter a plea of not guilty.

The defense team has not been negotiating a plea bargain with prosecutors and is weighing whether to seek a change of venue for the trial, Osburn said.

After yesterday's hearing, prosecutors expressed disappointment that they hadn't gotten the opportunity to begin unveiling their case in court.

"It prolongs the agony for the public to know," said District Attorney Nola Foulston.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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