Man convicted for 2007 murder of Jodi Sanderholm appeals conviction

Justin Thurber (Photo Courtesy: KDOC)
Jodi Sanderholm was 19 years old when she was murdered in Ark City, Kansas.
Jodi Sanderholm was 19 years old when she was murdered in Ark City, Kansas.

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – A Kansas man’s attorneys have asked the state Supreme Court to spare him from being executed for a college student’s murder over questions about whether he is developmentally disabled.

The court heard arguments Friday in an appeal from 34-year-old Justin Eugene Thurber. The south-central Kansas resident was sentenced to die for the kidnapping, rape and killing of 19-year-old Jodi Sanderholm after he stalked members of her college dance team. A ruling will come later.

Brian Sanderholm, Jodi’s father, and many other members of the family were in the courtroom for the hearing,

“It’s frustrating that is has to go through all of this, but I understand why it has to go through this,” said Sanderholm.

Thurber’s attorney, Reid Nelson, spent a majority of his time before the judges, stating his case that his client is developmentally disabled.

He says his client has an IQ between 70 and 80.

“If a determination on intellectual disability, if it went in Mr. Thurber’s favor would dispose, obviously a lot of this case,” said Nelson.

The state notes that Thurber graduated high school and attended college.

It’s something Sanderholm also pointed out.

“I believe that is ludicrous because he completed high school and attended junior college, you can’t do that and be the village idiot,” said Sanderholm.

Sanderholm is worried that if these hearings continue to drag out, he might never see the day that his daughter finally gets the justice she deserves.

“I’ve come to ease in my mind that I don’t think it will happen, end up being done in my lifetime, I will probably go to my grave and it’ll still be an open wound,” said Sanderholm.

The judge rejected the defense’s request for a hearing on whether Thurber is developmentally disabled, ruling that the defense hadn’t presented enough evidence to warrant a hearing.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute defendants with even mild developmental disabilities.


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