In the criminal justice system, Terry Loewen is a defendant, presumed innocent as federal prosecutors try to prove charges he attempted to use a weapon of mass destruction at the Wichita airport where he worked.
In the state Legislature, Loewen has already become the poster child and the justification for a bill to broaden the state’s civil and criminal anti-terrorism statutes.
“A few years ago we wouldn’t have maybe even been discussing a bill that takes civil action and forfeiture of property for acts of terror on Kansas property,” Rep. Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville, told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. “This bill is being brought before you at this time in light of recent events that happened in Wichita where a man attempted to drive what he thought was a van loaded with explosives onto the tarmac at the Wichita airport with the intent to kill as many innocent people as possible. So this bill is very appropriate for right now.”
Thursday’s testimony was similar to comments Jones gave on the House side, where the bill passed 123-0.
Attorneys on both sides of the Loewen case, which is in its beginning stages, said this week they couldn’t comment.
Dan Monnat, a Wichita defense attorney who isn’t involved in the case but has been following it, said Jones should choose his words more carefully.
“I’m always disheartened when I hear American government officials ignoring our time-honored presumption of innocence and right to a fair trial,” Monnat said.
Monnat, who has told other news outlets that an entrapment defense may be employed in the Loewen case, said those promoting legislation should avoid assertions about what Loewen did or didn’t do while the trial is in process.
“None of us know anything about the Terry Loewen case,” Monnat said. “We only know the accusations of the government. Those accusations, as in any other case, must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Told of Monnat’s concerns Friday, Jones said it was a “good point.”
“That’s actually a legitimate concern,” Jones said. “It was not my intention to pre-speak on a trial if he actually hasn’t gone through a full trial and been proven guilty.”
Jones said his testimony was based on news reports of what Loewen is alleged to have done, but he acknowledged the wording of his testimony may have surpassed allegation on its way to assertion.
“Yeah, that sounds like I’m condemning him prematurely, and that was not my intention,” Jones said.
Jones is the lead proponent of House Bill 2463, but others also have cited the Loewen case in testimony for the bill, sometimes referring to Loewen by name.
William Rich, a Washburn Law School professor who specializes in torts and constitutional law, said any comments by Jones and others asserting or implying Loewen’s guilt could be prejudicial if publicized widely.
“What legislative action could do, and particularly all the news reports associated with the legislation is to create an unfair environment for his trial,” Rich said. “It wouldn’t be the action of the Legislature, it would be the the news reports associated with it.”
The bill in question would expand the state criminal code regarding terrorism to include anyone who commits a terrorist act, those who “hinder the prosecution of any such crime” and those who “conceal or aid in the escape of any such crime.”
It would also allow for victims of such crimes to file lawsuits and seek civil penalties against anyone involved in those activities.
Though Jones is carrying the bill, a supplemental note says it was introduced by Rep. Peggy Mast, R-Emporia.
In 2012, Mast waded into an ongoing divorce case between two Muslims in Wichita to use it as supporting evidence for a bill that she said would prevent Islamic law, or sharia, from being applied by Kansas courts. At the time attorneys inside and outside of the Statehouse, including then-Sen. Tim Owens, urged the Legislature to allow the case to run its course before forming legislative responses.
Jones has testified that HB 2463 is similar to an Arkansas law passed after a shooting at a military recruiting center in Little Rock. He said he only cited the Loewen case so the need for it would hit home.
“That’s one of the examples that brought it to the forefront for Kansas,” Jones said. “There’s other examples. That being said, I still think it’s a good bill.”
The bill is also supported by the Center for Security Policy, a think tank that campaigned against the construction of a mosque in New York City and also pushed to ban sharia in U.S. courts.
Christopher Holton, the think tank’s vice president for outreach, testified for HB 2463, while also erroneously asserting that Kansas has no RICO law that could apply to those who aid terrorism.
Legislators passed a Kansas RICO law, Senate Bill 16, last year. Gov. Sam Brownback approved it April 16, 2013, and it took effect July 1, 2013.
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Topeka Capital Journal – by Andy Marso