Page 7 of 8
At her trial, Beach took the stand and told her version of the story. But prosecutors had offered Zugelder a plea bargain for his testimony against her, and he testified that Beach had known about the plan to rob and murder Grant. That contradicted his testimony at a preliminary hearing, when he'd said Arevalo hadn't told Beach about the plan because he was afraid she'd back out.
In February 2001, a jury acquitted Beach of aggravated robbery and conspiracy to commit murder.
But they found her guilty of felony murder and of attempted second-degree murder in the case of Thomas. Judge J. Dexter Burdette didn't inform the jury members that they had to agree on which underlying felony Beach had committed at the time of the murder, just that they had to agree she had committed a felony. The following month, Burdette sentenced Beach to life in prison with a "hard 20" -- no possibility of parole for 20 years.
The details of the trial are fuzzy in juror Brenna Palmer's memory. "There was some argument," Palmer remembers. "Anytime someone's life is at stake, there should be argument. Some of us didn't feel she should have been blamed for all of that."
When police finally caught Arevalo, he pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and aggravated robbery. In November 2002, a judge gave him the same sentence as Beach for Grant's murder -- life with a hard 20. Arevalo got an additional eight years for his other crimes.
Then 27-year-old Zugelder -- who, a few days before the murder, had discussed with Arevalo a plan to rob and kill Grant but had been unable to make it on that day -- pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder. He received a 13-year sentence.
All of the charges against Jimenez -- first-degree murder, attempted murder, aggravated robbery and conspiracy to commit murder -- were dropped. Jimenez had been scheduled for trial along with Beach, but he petitioned the court to give him a new lawyer because his public defender had once represented one of the state's witnesses in the case.
By state law, a defendant's trial must be scheduled within 90 days, and the change of attorneys gave the courts another 90 days to reschedule Jimenez's trial. But the new date fell a few weeks too late, and the district attorney's office neglected to buy more time by requesting a continuance. In May 2001, Wyandotte County District Court Judge Cordell Meeks Jr. dismissed the case, ruling that Jimenez's right to a speedy trial had been violated. The district attorney's office decided not to appeal the judge's ruling.
As of this spring, Beach has been in prison for three years.
Sarah Liggett has spent the past year thinking about how to free her. An articulate law student in her mid-20s, she seems to have little in common with Beach except for her age.
"We've had very different paths," Liggett says. "And I think she's been struggling from day one of her life to make it, with very limited support, and that's part of what led her to where she is today. But I do think it's kind of scary how this law was applied in this case. I think a lot of people could be stuck in her situation."
Liggett, who grew up in Fort Collins, Colorado, moved to Lawrence two years ago to attend law school at the University of Kansas. For the past year, she's worked only on Beach's case as part of KU's Paul E. Wilson Defender Project, one of the few programs in the country that handles post-conviction work for free. Professors there pore over dozens of cases, usually after requests from prisoners or their families, and are able to take on only a few cases a semester.