Jail escapee apologizes, gets 11 more years in prison
By MIKE CORN
NESS CITY -- In back-to-back court hearings Tuesday in both WaKeeney and Ness City, Kansas prison inmate Benito Cardenas Jr. issued apologies to his victims.
He subsequently was sentenced to a collective 183 months in prison on two counts of aggravated burglary in Trego County and a single count of aggravated escape from custody in Ness County.
The charges leading to his sentencing Tuesday stem from Cardenas cutting through four bars in the Ness County jail and escaping Aug. 10, 2012. He then stole a van and fled north into Trego County, burglarizing a residence near Cedar Bluff Reservoir before accosting a Trego Center woman before he fled east and twice tied up another woman.
Shortly after that, he surrendered to a crush of oncoming law enforcement officers.
Cardenas already had been sentenced in Ness County District Court to life in prison for rape and aggravated criminal sodomy. Because his victim was younger than 14, Cardenas was sentenced under the so-called Jessica's Law that prevents him from being eligible for parole before spending at least 25 years in prison.
Tuesday's sentences are to be served concurrent with each other, but they must be served consecutive to the sentences for the rape and sodomy convictions.
The order making Tuesday's sentences run concurrently means Cardenas will be required to spend nearly 11 more years in prison.
In the Trego County case, Cardenas was sentenced to 130 months in prison on one aggravated burglary charge, and an additional 32 months on the second aggravated burglary charge.
He was recaptured two days after his escape the evening of Aug. 10 at a rural residence southeast of WaKeeney, where he twice tied up the woman living there.
Cardenas originally faced nine charges in that case, all but two of them felonies. The most serious charge was kidnapping, dismissed as part of the plea bargain.
The second aggravated burglary charge stemmed from an earlier incident when Cardenas, who was brandishing a knife, forced his way into a vehicle at Trego Center and wanted cash.
The woman driving the car was able to fight him off and left with only a slight injury.
"I have something written down if I can," Cardenas said when District Judge Glenn Braun asked if he wanted to make a statement before sentencing.
Wearing a belly chain and leg shackles, Cardenas awkwardly unfolded the piece of notebook paper at the podium in front of Braun.
"First, I'd like to apologize to all my victims," Cardenas said, briefly glancing behind him where one of the women sat. "I can't deny I committed these crimes."
Cardenas struggled at times to read the nearly two-page statement, his voice rising and falling as he read.
It was a similar situation before District Judge Bruce Gatterman in Ness County District Court.
There, the message was much the same, except it was directed at his escape from the Ness County jail.
It included an apology to law enforcement officers, including Ness County Sheriff Bryan Whipple, who sat with two other jail inmates at the rear of the courtroom.
In both instances, Cardenas said it was fear that made him cut through four bars in the Ness County jail, presumably with a hacksaw, and then make his escape.
"I was afraid of 25 years to life," he said of the sentence he was facing on the first round of prison sentences he had received.
"Most of all, I was afraid," he told Braun in WaKeeney. "I was afraid of spending 25 years to life. I wasn't in the right mind. I thought I could escape from jail and get away with it."