Sedgwick County challenged with backlogs of cases, overcrowding in jail

Eyewitness News spoke with Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter and a local attorney about how the backlog has affected not only the courts but the jail as well.
Published: Jul. 5, 2022 at 10:51 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - A case that’s been in the court system for nearly eight years will go to trial this week. Cornell McNeal was charged with capital murder and rape among charges in connection with the 2014 death of Letitia Davis. Investigators say McNeal raped Davis and then set her on fire in Fairmount Park.

After complications with the trial for years, McNeal’s case will finally go to trial this week. The pandemic also plays a part in this case with COVID-19 forcing the court’s system not to operate as usual. This created a backlog of cases and large delays, such as McNeal’s, although McNeal has been in custody the longest of all the current inmates at the Sedgwick County Jail.

Tuesday, Eyewitness News spoke with Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter and a local attorney about how the backlog has affected not only the courts, but the jail as well. McNeal has been in Sedgwick County’s custody since his arrest nearly eight years ago. He is far from the only murder suspect awaiting trial in the Sedgwick County Jail.

“The last I checked last week, we had 123 folks that allegedly committed a murder in our custody,” Sheriff Easter said.

Defense attorney Chris O’Hara with O’Hara and O’Hara Law Offices spoke on the severity of the backlogs, in large part stemming form the pandemic.

“With COVID, some of these cases have been very difficult to get the system operating a certain way,” Ramsay said. “And then when you’ve got a backlog with the system, obviously some of these cases may take a little bit longer to get through.”

O’Hara said the delays are frustrating to those in custody, as well as the state facilities having to deal with them.

“There can be frustration from the defense’s perspective,” he said. “I think there’s also probably frustration from the state’s perspective.”

With delays also leading to jail overcrowding, the taxpayer costs for holding inmates adds up.

“It’s approximately $72 a day to house a prisoner inside the Sedgwick County holding facility,” Easter said. “As of [July 5], we had 1,470 inmates.”

He said the quicker cases can be resolved with not-guilty verdicts leading to release and guilty verdicts leading to either probation or moves to state prisons with the Kansas Department of Corrections, the better. With the backlog of yet-to-be resolved cases leading to concerns about overcrowding inside the jail, Easter said the last two years “have been very brutal.”

Copyright 2022 KWCH. All rights reserved.