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Bobby Harper

Other Kansas exonerations
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Sedgwick_County.jpeg
In the early morning hours of April 29, 1987, Wichita, Kansas police officer Donald Luther was driving by Dukes’ Diamonds, a local softball complex when he spotted someone in the clubhouse. After waiting for backup, Luther went inside, but no one was there. He did notice that a metal filing cabinet appeared to have been forced open.

When Luther went outside, he noticed 28-year-old Bobby Harper lying face down near a fence. Next to him was a shirt and a hammer. Luther handcuffed him and asked what he was doing there. Harper said he stayed there and that the keys were in his pocket. Luther retrieved the keys and verified they opened the lock on the clubhouse. Nonetheless, Harper was charged with burglary and theft.

He went to trial in Sedgwick County District Court in September 1987. Sonny Dukes, owner of the softball complex, testified that he contracted with Harper and his brother, Kenny Harper, to pour cement and build a garage next to the softball field. Dukes was to pay them $700—with $400 in advance—and allow them to field a team for two seasons without paying an entrance fee. The job was to be completed by June 1986.

At the same time, Dukes hired Bobby Harper as the head groundskeeper for the 1986 season and gave him keys to the building so he could do the work. In addition, Dukes hired Bobby Harper to work as an umpire. Dukes also said he gave Bobby permission to stay at the building overnight if necessary to complete his work or if he was too intoxicated to drive home.

By the end of October 1986, the Harper brothers badly missed the June 1986 deadline for completion of the construction. Only the cement slab and some framework on the garage had been completed. Dukes testified that when Bobby Harper asked who would get the free slot for a team in 1987, Dukes said no one would get the team unless the work was finished and that in any event, Kenny would get the slot since the contract was written under the name of Kenny’s business.

Dukes said he asked for his keys back. When Harper said he needed the keys to get his tools, Dukes let him hold onto the keys. He also did not fire Harper as groundskeeper.

Harper testified that in his position as an umpire, he kept track of his own hours and was paid on a per game basis. He told the jury that Dukes did not pay him for all of the games that he umpired, did not pay him a $50 bonus for watching the operations while Dukes was on vacation, and did not give him his discount on concessions as Dukes had promised.

Harper told the jury that he forced the filing cabinet open because he thought it contained records that would help him pursue a lawsuit against Dukes to get paid for his work.

Harper said he left the building to go to his van to get tools to unscrew the lock of the filing cabinet. The hammer was his and he used the shirt to wipe his fingerprints off the filing cabinet and draped it over his shoulder with no intention of taking it. He said he merely wanted the records to prove his case and was not looking for money. While admitting he didn’t have permission to take the records, he said that he did have permission to be in the building.

On September 15, 1987, the jury acquitted Harper of theft, but convicted him of burglary. He was sentenced to 3½ to seven years in prison.

In April 1989, the Kansas Court of Appeals upheld his conviction. Harper was released on parole on August 21, 1989.

In February 1990, the Kansas Supreme Court reversed his conviction. The court said the jury apparently believed Harper’s account to the extent that it acquitted him of the theft charge. As for the burglary charge, the court held that since Dukes had given Harper the keys and permission to be in the building—to stay overnight if need be—that an essential element of the crime had not been proven—that Harper was in the building without permission. In fact, the court noted, Dukes had given Harper virtually “unlimited” permission to be in the building.

The case was sent back to Sedgwick County and was never retried.

In 2019, after Kansas enacted a statute allowing wrongfully convicted individuals to seek state compensation, Harper filed a claim. On December 10, 2019, Segdwick County District Judge Jeffrey Goering granted Harper a certificate of innocence and granted his claim for compensation.

On March 20, 2020, a claim for $238,779 was approved.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 4/20/2020
Last Updated: 4/20/2020
State:Kansas
County:Sedgwick
Most Serious Crime:Burglary/Unlawful Entry
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1987
Convicted:1987
Exonerated:2020
Sentence:3 1/2 to 7 years
Race:White
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:28
Contributing Factors:
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No