By Managing Editor Teri L. Hansen
For the second time, Travis Belt is preparing to face a jury of his peers. Accused of the same crimes as before, Belt, 27, of Little River, is charged with five felony charges including first-degree premeditated murder of 58-year-old McPherson resident Steven Carlson who was found dead in his home at 548 Eshelman in April 2017. The original charges were filed in 2017.
Arraignment was held at 1 p.m. today with Judge John Klenda presiding. A jury trial has been scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. on April 27 and is expected to continue through May 15. A break will take place in the proceedings as the annual McPherson County All School’s Day celebration will fall on May 8 and the courthouse will be closed.
Multiple issues were decided in court today, with a little new information coming to light. Klenda ruled that any expert reports were to be due to the defense no later than Jan. 7. McPherson County Attorney Gregory T. Benefiel requested leeway on this matter as additional testing is currently being performed. Due to testimony during the preliminary hearing last week, the state decided to test a knife that was in evidence with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. Witnesses during the preliminary hearing claimed that the knife in question, may be the murder weapon. In addition, Courtney Randolph, a witness during the preliminary hearing, will have her DNA tested against blood found at the scene. Witnesses testified that she may have been at Carlson’s home around the time of the murder.
The KBI lab estimates about a six-week turn around for results and these items were only recently submitted. The results are not expected back until mid-January.
“I don’t want to delay this trial any further,” Klenda to the prosecution.
Benefiel assured the court that all existing expert reports had in fact, already been turned over and the new ones will be turned over as soon as they are available and indicated that it wouldn’t matter in the long run anyways.
“We don’t believe it has any correlation to the crime,” Benefiel said.
Defense expert reports will in turn be due Feb. 7.
A status conference is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Jan. 6. The issue of beginning the process to select a new jury pool will be discussed at that time as well. Approximately 300 candidates were questioned and could have potentially been selected in the previous when the original charges were filed in 2017. A jury trial was scheduled for April 23, 2019. However, the State dismissed the case without prejudice, stating that they wanted time to allow for further testing of DNA found at the scene. At this time, the original jury pool was released. On June 19, 2019, the State refiled the case with the complaints being the same as the original filing.
Status and pre-trail conferences will be held up until the trial. Motions will be filed and for the second time, Belt will fight for his life in the court of law against charges for crimes he says he did not commit.