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A Parsons man pleaded to lesser charges and has been released from jail after sitting there 16 months waiting for his felony case to end on charges that at worst could have resulted in a year in prison.

The man, Mark A. Winchester, 34, 118 S. 29th, filed a civil suit against the sheriff and county attorney in Labette County District Court claiming constitutional violations for his long incarceration without a trial. The most recent delays in the case related to the COVID-19 pandemic that has delayed court cases and left many defendants jailed without seeing movement in court because of shutdowns. In recent months, courts have begun reopening, but in-person hearings are limited and most are via the Zoom online meeting platform. Some cases for jailed defendants are awaiting jury trial settings in Labette County and local judges have not had plans approved to return to offering jury trials.

Winchester and Bobbie Jo Stoneberger were arrested and charged in June 2018. Winchester faced three counts of aggravated interference with parental custody, all level seven felonies. Stoneberger was charged with three counts of conspiracy to commit aggravated interference with parental custody, all lower-level felonies. She was freed on bond. Winchester remained jailed on a $5,000 bond. On June 18, 2018, Winchester and Stoneberger allegedly removed his children from his mother’s home in Oklahoma and drove them to Parsons, where Parsons police found them early the next morning. Winchester’s mother is the custodial parent based on an Oklahoma judge’s ruling.

Winchester was ordered to stand trial in the case, but the trial was delayed because of Kansas Supreme Court orders resulting from the pandemic.

The Kansas Legislature suspended court deadlines in state law, including the time during which a defendant is to be brought to trial if in custody. This issue was part of Winchester’s lawsuit and the judge hearing the case ruled that because the Legislature granted the speedy trial law it could take it away. The main issue that remained was if Winchester’s Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial was violated. The senior judge hearing the civil case ruled in late August that appellate rulings did not address issues similar to Winchester’s, especially the fact that Winchester has spent more time in custody than he could serve for the underlying crime. But he ruled that the circumstance did not result in oppressive pretrial incarceration for Winchester.

Winchester’s attorney, Lucas Nodine, filed an appeal. 

The case was docketed for the Kansas Court of Appeals, but no hearing date was set. This week, Nodine and Labette County Counselor Brian Johnson, filed a notice with the appellate court to dismiss the appeal.

Also this week, Winchester pleaded no contest to three amended counts of interference with parental custody, all misdemeanors. He was sentenced to 12 months in jail, which he’d already served, so he was ordered released. He was released from the Labette County Jail Friday morning and transported to an Oklahoma county that had a warrant for his arrest.

Winchester’s case was pending more than 850 days since its filing. He sat 491 days in jail awaiting resolution of the charges.

This article originally ran on parsonssun.com.

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