April 19, 2014

Law enforcement, elected officials, former classmate react to charges against suspected highway shooter

Kansas City area law enforcement and elected officials expressed their relief and gratitude at the arrest and charging of a suspect in 9 shooting incidents on highways in the Kansas City area since March 8.

Mohammed Pedro Whitaker (photo courtesy, KSSZ in Columbia)

Mohammed Pedro Whitaker (photo courtesy, KSSZ in Columbia)

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker has filed 9 counts of shooting into a vehicle and 9 counts of armed criminal action against 27-year-old Mohammed Pedro Whitaker of Grandview.

“Tonight might be a good night to sleep,” Peters Baker said in a media conference at which she announced the charges. “It’s been a few nights without that for so many of us.”

Whitaker could face life in prison if convicted. Peters Baker says more charges could be filed against him.

The shots Whitaker is accused of firing struck and wounded three people.

“The victims in this case … are from throughout the Metro area,” says Peters Baker. “This has impacted all of us. Each side of State Line (Road). It’s been something that’s been at the heart and thoughts of all of us since the day this case first broke.”

Kansas City Police Chief Daryl Forte says it was 10 days after a formal briefing across law enforcement agencies that Whitaker was arrested.

“The successful apprehension was the result of cooperation, collaboration, and to me, the support of the community,” said Forte. “We can have all the resources and those sorts of things but without the piece from the community, we’d be nowhere.”

Kansas City Mayor Sly James also thanked the Metro region’s residents for their help.

“But for the tips that were received,” says James, “The apprehension may not have happened. The public engaged in this.”

Whitaker is a former Columbia resident and a 2004 graduate of Moberly Senior High School.

One former friend and classmate of Whitaker’s told Missourinet affiliate KWIX in Moberly she didn’t think he was capable of such acts.

“Not at all,” she says. “He was just a normal kid. He was a class clown. He always cut up. He was very fun.”

Forte says police decided early in the investigation to control the release of information, and he says that will continue.

“We wanted to say some things about a few things but as we thought about it we decided not to, and again it worked out well,” says Forte. “This is an ongoing investigation. I won’t give you a lot of detail about anything because we want to continue what we started with.”

Authorities believe 12 shootings are related, mostly in Kansas City but other happened in Lee’s Summit, Blue Springs and Leawood. The wounds sustained by the three people who were struck were not considered life-threatening.

See our earlier story

Kansas City area highway shooting suspect identified, charged

The Jackson County Prosecutor has announced 18 felony charges stemming from 9 shooting incidents on highways in the Kansas City area against 27-year-old Mohammed Pedro Whitaker of Grandview.

Mohammed Pedro Whitaker (photo courtesy, KSSZ in Columbia)

Mohammed Pedro Whitaker (photo courtesy, KSSZ in Columbia)

Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker has filed 9 counts of shooting into a vehicle and 9 counts of armed criminal action against Whitaker. Whitaker could face life in prison if convicted.

Peters Baker says more charges could be filed later.

Three people sustained non-life-threatening wounds in the shootings that began March 8. Authorities believe 12 shootings are related, mostly in Kansas City but other happened in Lee’s Summit, Blue Springs and Leawood.

Whitaker is a 2004 graduate of Moberly Senior High School and a former Columbia resident.


KWIX in Moberly and KSSZ in Columbia contributed to this report

See more: Law enforcement, elected officials & a former classmate react to arrest and charges of suspected KC-area highway shooter


Legislature will try to get criminal code rewrite to Gov. Nixon next week

State lawmakers who have spent years crafting an update to Missouri’s system of criminal laws and punishments hope to send Governor Jay Nixon (D) a bill next week.

Representative Stanley Cox (courtesy; Missouri House Communications)

Representative Stanley Cox (courtesy; Missouri House Communications)

House and Senate versions of that rewrite were passed last week, and lawmakers in both chambers met this week to discuss differences between those versions and reach a compromise. They plan to attempt to make those changes to the Senate bill (SB 491) in a House committee, and get it through both chambers and to the Governor next week.

“We have a bill which is satisfactory to the sponsors in both houses,” says Representative Stanley Cox (R-Sedalia), the sponsor of the House legislation.

One of the major differences between the two versions dealt with penalties for first-time possession of small amounts of marijuana. The Senate version would eliminate jail time for possession of less than 35 grams of marijuana, while the House version would maintain the current penalty of up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Senator Jolie Justus (courtesy; Missouri Senate Communications)

Senator Jolie Justus (courtesy; Missouri Senate Communications)

Senator Jolie Justus (D-Kansas City) says the two sides struck a “tentative” compromise.

“We kept it so that if you have 35 or less grams of marijuana and it’s a first-time offense it’ll be a Class-A misdemeanor which is what it is now, but if you have 10 grams or less of marijuana and it’s a first-time offense then it will be moved to a Class-D misdemeanor, which is not going to be subject to jail time. It will be fine only.”

In response to concerns about the size of the legislation expressed by Governor Nixon, Senate lawmakers had removed some 400 pages that reclassified certain felonies and added a fifth level of felony offense. Justus says that will be restored.

“When we sat down and worked it out with the House members, frankly, we realized that cutting that out was kind of defeating the purpose of what we’d set out to do in the first place without really addressing the Governor’s issues,” says Justus.

The proposal will still come out smaller than the House’s more than 1000-page bill, though. Cox says that’s because those from his chamber agreed to remove language dealing with weapons penalties.

“There were lots of issues with that,” Cox says. “We thought it best not to try to address that. Some of it had to do with other legislation passing through the legislature this year.”

The bill still won’t be broken down into smaller pieces based on subject matter, which is what Nixon had indicated he wanted. Justus says lawmakers don’t feel that can be done.

Nixon says the size of the bill leaves too much room for error, and he dismisses legislators’ position that the bill will be vetted after passage by the Missouri Supreme Court and its effective date has been pushed back to 2017, to allow time for changes if necessary.

Justus and Cox both say if necessary, they think the legislature could overturn the Governor if he were to veto the bill.

“Obviously we’ll take a look at the veto message if there is one,” Justus says.

If the bill is sent to Nixon it would be the culmination of years of work for both lawmakers.

“The closer we get the more nervous I get,” Justus tells Missourinet, but adds she is confident the bill has been thoroughly vetted starting with its drafting by a Missouri Bar committee, followed by five years of committee work leading up to full chamber consideration.

Cox agrees. “I feel confident that we’ll get it done this year.”

School transfer proposal to be a focus for House in next two weeks

Attempts to fix issues with Missouri’s student transfer law will be one of the focuses in the last four weeks of the legislative session.

Representative Rick Stream (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Rick Stream (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Numerous lawmakers and groups have been working this session on possible changes to a 1993 law that lays out how students can transfer from districts that have lost accreditation to better-performing districts. That law has caused financial problems in unaccredited districts, who must pay for those transfers.

Representative Rick Stream (R-Kirkwood) is the handler of a Senate transfer fix bill (SB 493) that will be brought up in a House committee Tuesday.  Stream hopes the bill can clear the committee Tuesday and reach the House Floor the following Monday, three weeks before the end of the session.

He says it is a priority for House leadership. “The Speaker and the Floor Leader have promised to move it quickly … we’re going to move this bill fast.”

That bill, which cleared the Senate in February, already proposes determining whether individual school buildings are accredited and only removing an entire district’s accreditation if 55 percent of its buildings are unaccredited, disallowing transfers for students who have not lived in an unaccredited school’s jurisdiction for less than a calendar year, and allowing students to transfer to private, non-religious schools or accredited buildings in the same or an adjacent county.

Stream says after talking to many lawmakers in both parties and both chambers, education groups and the Legislative Black Caucus, three key changes to the Senate bill will be considered Tuesday.

One would be to ask sending districts to pay 70 percent of their own tuition to the school districts taking their students, rather than 90 percent of a receiving district’s rate as is currently written in the Senate legislation.

“That stabilizes what the sending districts are going to have to pay each year,” says Stream. He says that will make it easier for sending districts to budget for transfers. “They didn’t know this year how much money they were going to have to send out because kids were leaving and going to different districts … anywhere from Clayton which was $20,000 to Ladue which was $17,000, to Kirkwood which was $12,000, to Francis Howell which was $11,000.”

A second change would add charter schools to the places a student in an unaccredited school building can transfer.

“If our goal is to get all of the students in these unaccredited districts into a high-quality educational environment right away, then we have to give them the options to do that.”

A third alteration would have review teams help districts on the verge of unaccreditation figure out how to stop sliding.

“We put in a lot of assistance or review teams,” Stream tells Missourinet, “to come in and analyze what’s going on in these provisionally accredited districts and borderline accredited districts to help them turn their districts around so they don’t eventually slide in to unaccreditation or provisional accreditation.”

House Speaker Tim Jones (R-Eureka) says his caucus is trying to build a strong majority of support for student transfer legislation. Governor Jay Nixon (D) has said he opposes allowing the use of state money to pay for students to transfer to private schools, which SB 493 would.

Missourinet asked Jones if Republican leaders are gearing up for the possibility that Nixon would veto the transfer bill and they would have to try and overturn him.

“Everything’s going to have to be on the table to solve an issue that is extremely important for us to solve this year,” says Jones.

MU Athletic Director confirms Frank Haith departure, Haith talks to ESPN

The University of Missouri’s athletic director says basketball coach Frank Haith has taken the job of head coach at Tulsa and will be announced in a news conference at 1.

Mike Alden says Haith informed him of his decision in a text message this morning. MU assistant Tim Fuller will serve as interim coach but Alden hasn’t revealed candidates for a permanent replacement.

Haith was due to make $1.7-million for the 2013-14 season. His contract at MU was to have run through the 2016-17 season, and he will owe the University $500,000 for terminating that deal early.

ESPN reports Haith has been given a seven-year contract at Tulsa that will pay an average of $1.85-million a year. Haith also told ESPN he would take his Missouri staff with him, though one assistant was said to be pursuing another job and so might not go to Tulsa.

Haith tells ESPN he was attracted in part by the fact that the national champion came out of the American Athletic Conference, where Tulsa is moving next season.

“This has been a great basketball job at Tulsa with a great tradition with Tubby Smith, Nolan Richardson and most recently with Danny Manning,” Haith told ESPN. “There is great leadership here at Tulsa and they are showing a great commitment.”

This will be the third time Haith has guided a team through transition between conferences, first when the University of Miami moved from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference and then when the Tigers went from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference.