Son, sister of slain Hays resident urge Kansas House members to amend estate law

Proposed bill expands reach of ‘slayer’ statute blocking enrichment of perpetrators

By: - January 18, 2023 10:19 am
Jeremiah Schumacher, son of a Hays woman allegedly murdered by her spouse in 2022, urged Kansas House members to pass a bill preventing the accused of inheriting estate assets of the deceased. Current law forbids a convicted killer of benefitting financially from the estate, but not someone merely charged or arrested for a homicide. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from Kansas Legislature YouTube channel)

Jeremiah Schumacher, son of a Hays woman allegedly murdered by her spouse in 2022, urged Kansas House members to pass a bill preventing the accused of inheriting estate assets of the deceased. Current law forbids a convicted killer of benefitting financially from the estate, but not someone merely charged or arrested for a homicide. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from Kansas Legislature YouTube channel)

TOPEKA — Jeremiah Schumacher says his father’s abuse of his mother was a staple of the couple’s 40-year marriage and only came to a stop when she died at Hays Medical Center after sustaining traumatic head injuries.

Karen Schumacher, 60, had obtained from a judge a protection from abuse order but her sister Susan Rohr said it was “worthless” in curbing violent tendencies of Jay Schumacher, who is awaiting trial on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated battery and mistreatment of a dependent adult. His actions allegedly led to his wife’s death.

“My dad was never a good man,” Jeremiah Schumacher said. “He was extremely violent, extremely controlling and very good at hiding what he did.”

Jeremiah Schumacher told members of the Kansas House on Tuesday there was no doubt in his mind that his father was responsible for his mother’s death. He asserted “it was pretty cut and dried, in my opinion,” and was clear to others with knowledge of the March 2022 events leading to her passing.

A judge ordered the couple’s assets divided and a freeze was placed on the half that would constitute Karen Schumacher’s estate, but it remains possible the accused could end up with that half of property as well. His father has continued to spend assets of the estate while behind bars of the Ellis County Jail.

“It just doesn’t make any sense. I can’t wrap my head around it,” Jeremiah Schumacher told the House Judiciary Committee. “He’s arrested for the murder of his spouse. What gives him the right to everything free and clear?”

In Kansas, the state’s so-called “slayer” law required a person to be convicted of killing an individual or procuring the murder of someone before property could be permanently withheld.

He spoke in support of House Bill 2027 introduced by Rep. Barbara Wasinger, R-Hays, and Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence. In the interests of justice, he said, the state ought to amend statute to prevent distribution of a decedent’s assets to a person arrested for or charged with felonious killing of the decedent until criminal proceedings were completed. Property would be released if charges against the individual were dropped or the defendant was acquitted. The current setup leaves a gap between the alleged crime and a conviction.

“Even though she was abused for 40 years,” said Rohr, the dead mother’s sister. “Terribly abused — verbally, mentally, emotionally — and medical neglect … she had a smile on her face.”

She told the House committee a medical examination prior to the death revealed her sister had 10 permanent areas of brain damage “equivalent to boxers.” She attributed it to consequences of domestic violence.

The bipartisan bill also would specify the district court could prohibit the sale, distribution, spending or use of an asset or interest by a person who has been arrested for or charged with the felonious killing.

James Houston Bale, of the Kansas State Board of Indigents’ Defense Services, said he understood motivation for amending the slayer rule in the probate code to allow a court to halt a probate proceeding where an heir had been accused of the felonious killing of the decedent. The rule serves an important purpose in deterring careless or intentional acts leading to the death of a person by which the killer may profit, he said.

However, he said the legislative committee of the Board of Indigents’ Defense Services was concerned about language in the House bill.

“Clarity is important when drafting any statute, but especially statutes that interact with criminal proceedings,” Bale said. “Clear statutory language insulates the work of the Legislature from future questioning by the appellate courts. And for most people in such a situation, facing charges before a Kansas court will be one of the most serious circumstances they will ever face in their lives. In such a critical situation, people value clarity and certainty as to what will happen if they choose a course of action, like entering into a plea agreement.”

He said the bill was unclear regarding what happened in terms of plea agreements because imprecise text could discourage settlement of cases because results of such a deal before trial were unclear.

The proposed legislation also could create situations where a person who otherwise would have the resources to hire private counsel to contest a criminal allegation would need a court-appointed, state-funded attorney, Bale said. It was possible someone accused of the death of a family member couldn’t rely on an asset they would be set to inherit from that estate to fund their defense against the charge, he said.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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