Schmidt receives 10 years, 3 months — Victim's family voices disappointment

3/28/2014

By KELTON BROOKS

By KELTON BROOKS

kbrooks@gctelegram.com

A Garden City man who in February pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in connection with the March 2011 stabbing death of another local man, was sentenced Friday to 10 years and three months in prison.

District Court Judge Robert Frederick on Friday handed down the sentence to Fred Schmidt, 34, who had been scheduled to go to trial on a first-degree murder charge in connection with the March, 29, 2011, stabbing death of 24-year-old Jeffrey Nichols, but avoided trial by pleading guilty on Feb. 11 to the lesser second-degree murder charge.

Before the ruling was made, Carol Nichols, the mother of Jeffrey Nichols, came to the podium to address Schmidt, the judge and a gallery of friends and family, all of whom wore a button with a picture of Jeffrey Nichols on it. She tried to steady her hand to wipe away her tears, but couldn't.

"This is an injustice to our family and the citizens of Finney County," Carol Nichols said in expressing her disappointment in prosecutors' decision in February to accept the plea agreement and not proceed with a trial on the first-degree murder charge. "A terrible decision was made. No one knows what happened that night because Jeff is not here to tell us."

Carol Nichols stood at the podium for several minutes, rehashing a list of events since the legal process began. She spoke of conversations with officers and past officials who worked on the case, but she also aimed her displeasure with the ruling toward Finney County Attorney Susan Richmeier.

Richard Nichols, the father of Jeffrey Nichols, was first to step to the podium to speak.

"I condemn the county attorney's office for copping out and giving this murderer a plea bargain," Richard Nichols said. "It was a slap in our faces. It is in my opinion that they offered a plea bargain just so they can secure a winning case."

Schmidt initially was arrested in April 2011 on suspicion of second-degree murder. Authorities alleged he and Nichols were engaged in a fight on March 29, 2011, at or near Nichols' 1909 Sloan St. residence, about a block from where police later found Nichols' body.

Forensics reports concluded that Nichols died from 45 stab wounds to the neck, face and back.

In May 2011, Schmidt was bound over for trial on a second-degree murder charge and later pleaded not guilty, claiming self-defense.

The Finney County Attorney's Office, upon further investigation, determined there was enough evidence to charge Schmidt with first-degree murder, but in a July 20, 2011, preliminary hearing, District Court Judge Philip Vieux failed to find probable cause to bind Schmidt over for trial on that charge. The Finney County Attorney's Office appealed Vieux's decision, which required the initial case against Schmidt to be dropped, resulting in his release from the Finney County Jail on Aug. 3, 2011.

In June 2012, the Kansas Court of Appeals overturned Vieux's ruling and Schmidt was bound over for trial on a first-degree murder charge.

In May 2013, Schmidt was apprehended by authorities in D'Iberville, Miss., and extradited back to Finney County.

William Votypka, deputy Finney County attorney, said as much as prosecutors would have liked to put Schmidt away for a longer period of time than was ordered, he believes the ruling was the most appropriate and best way to proceed in the case.

"The judge made the findings that this was an aggravated case, and as a result, he sentenced him to the maximum allowed under law. I don't think we can ask for anything better than that," Votypka said.

Richmeier said it was not a singular decision made by any means, and both Votypka and Richmeier added that they understood the family's frustration.

"We take every last one of these cases seriously," Richmeier said. "This is not a game for us. This was not something that we didn't heavily weigh before we made that determination."

Schmidt also was ordered to pay more than $24,000 in fees related to the case.

Between the initial jail time Schmidt served in 2011 and the time he has been in custody since being brought back to Finney County from Mississippi in May 2013, Schmidt has served 448 days in jail. Judge Frederick said it is required by law to credit those 448 days to Schmidt's sentence, meaning his sentence officially began Jan. 15, 2013.

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