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Man gets Hard 50 sentence in Wichita woman's death

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- A Sedgwick County judge sentenced a man convicted of killing a Wichita woman while on parole for the murder of another woman to at least 50 years in prison.

Tyrone Walker was sentenced Thursday in the strangulation death of Janis Sanders, 44, in June 2011, in Wichita. He had been paroled in February of that year after serving a 12-year sentence for killing 25-year-old Tamara Baker in Lawrence in October 1989.

Before he was sentenced, Walker told the court that he didn't kill Sanders.

District Judge Joseph Bribiesca imposed the Hard 50 sentence, which means Walker will have no chance of parole for 50 years, despite a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that called into question the constitutionality of such sentences. The court found, in part, that a jury, not a judge, must consider if any element of a crime that can increase a prison sentence was proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

District Judge Joseph Bribiesca said the Supreme Court ruling did not apply in Walker's case because during his trial, Walker's defense stipulated that he had been convicted of second-degree murder in Douglas County in 1989. That means the conviction, which was a factor in the Hard 50 sentence, did not have to be proven to jury, the judge said.

The Kansas Legislature will convene a special session next month to rewrite the Hard 50 law to comply with the ruling.

The Kansas Appellate Defender Office will have 14 days to decide whether to appeal the ruling, The Wichita Eagle reported (http://bit.ly/15A4IH6 ).

Kansas law requires a judge to consider aggravating and mitigating factors before deciding whether to impose a Hard 50 sentence. The law lists several aggravating factors, including a prior conviction for a crime that caused death.

Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said in a news conference Thursday the fact that Walker had been convicted of murder twice prompted him to seek a Hard 50 sentence.

"We're going to protect the citizens with a Hard 50 sentence when it's necessary," he said. "And in this case, we believe certainly that it was."