OSWEGO — A Crawford County judge on Tuesday ordered a Parsons man to stand trial for breaking into the Labette County Judicial Center in Parsons four years ago.
DNA evidence plays a role in the case against Stephen V. Yanez, born in 1985, 20 Birch. Yanez is charged in Labette County District Court with nonresidential burglary and criminal damage, both lower-level felonies.
The break-in occurred Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 19 and 20, 2015, at 201 S. Central. Crawford County District Judge Lori A. Bolton Fleming is presiding over the case and Robert Myers is special prosecutor. J. Gordon Gregory is representing Yanez.
Yanez has denied his involvement in the burglary and provided a DNA sample to a sheriff’s detective investigating it in 2015.
Witnesses at a preliminary hearing Tuesday were former Sheriff Robert Sims, former Undersheriff Steve Higgins and sheriff Detective Sgt. Kevin Lahey. The case against Yanez was filed in 2018, two years after investigators received the DNA report from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation lab that tied Yanez or males in his family to DNA discovered at the crime scene.
Gregory attacked that evidence, taken from an empty can of Mountain Dew, from its introduction.
A former janitor for the building, Rod Nally, found the empty can in the trash in the women’s bathroom of the jury room. Nally formerly was Neosho County sheriff and collected the can using a pen or pencil and gave it to Sims, who kept the can in the sheriff’s office in the building, Sims testified. The can was transferred to Higgins on Dec. 22, 2015, by a sheriff’s deputy working security at the judicial center. Higgins transferred the can to Lahey on Dec. 29, 2015. Lahey stored the can in a locked evidence room at the sheriff’s department in Oswego until he took it to the KBI lab in Topeka the next day. Sims didn’t mention filling out an evidence custody receipt when handling the evidence. The ECR documents who handled evidence and when. Lahey didn’t know where Higgins stored the can after he received it; Higgins testified it was stored in evidence.
The can was unusual because Nally told the sheriff he would have removed it from the trash can. He normally cleaned Friday night. There were no jury trials that week, so the sheriff wanted investigators to determine why the can was there and if it related to the break-in.
Lahey also collected a candy wrapper from the floor of the court clerk’s office. The suspicion was that the burglar, who wore gloves during the break-in, saw the candy in the office and took one.
Nally was not called as a witness.
The burglar entered the building through a west window in a court reporter’s office. A brick used to break the glass was found in the office, according to a probable cause affidavit filed in the case.
The burglar damaged drawers, an antique desk, file cabinets, a monitor and other property. He or she also broke into locked offices, taking $35 from the court clerk’s office. A laptop computer in the sheriff’s office by the main building entrance was broken in pieces. A set of handcuffs in that office were missing. A break room for the county attorney’s office was broken into as well.
Lahey testified that Yanez was a person of interest early on in the investigation. A security video showed the burglar, but nothing to identify him or her. The burglar appeared to be about 5-foot, 8-inches tall based on markings on a doorway when he or she left. He or she was bow-legged. This described Yanez and his walk, Lahey testified.
Yanez attended a court hearing in a criminal case the same week as the break-in. He was asked to leave the hearing and was angry about that, Lahey testified. Lahey testified that the burglary didn’t appear related to stealing property as much as causing destruction. Not much was taken other than the money, cuffs and a security camera.
Lahey testified that he spoke to Yanez on Dec. 28, 2015. Yanez said he did not break into the judicial center. Yanez provided the DNA swabs that day.
The lab report came back Jan. 22, 2016, and said the DNA found on the Mountain Dew can was consistent with the DNA Yanez provided and he and his male relatives could not be excluded as possible contributors. Yanez’s father told Lahey he was not involved in the break-in and had not been at the judicial center around the time of the burglary and Yanez’s brother was away at college in Nebraska during the break-in. He said the alibis of the father and brother checked out.
A picture of a shoe from the security video did not match shoes in Yanez’s house at the time, Lahey testified.
After Lahey testified, Myers argued that he showed enough probable cause to bind Yanez over on the charges.
Gregory said the case should be dismissed. The chain of custody of the evidence was not established for the can and nothing else links Yanez to the crime. The entire case revolves around the lab report and the DNA sample.
“That’s all they have,” Gregory said.
Fleming ruled that enough evidence was presented to order Yanez to stand trial and that the DNA evidence was clear.
Attorneys will schedule arraignment later. Yanez also faces a misdemeanor case related to a May 19 incident when he allegedly drove under the influence and attempted to elude officers.