The family of Tiffany Mogenson on Wednesday expressed shock and dismay at Johnson County prosecutors’ decision to accept a plea deal from Roy Lee Maney, the man charged with first-degree murder after hitting Mogenson’s car at the intersection of 75th Street and Roe Avenue in October 2013 while traveling at approximately 90 miles per hour.
Maney stood solemnly in the Johnson County courtroom alongside attorney Mark DuPree as Judge Brenda Cameron read the reduced list of charges — reckless second degree murder and leaving the scene of an accident — to which he had agreed to plead guilty.
“Are you pleading because you are, in fact, guilty?” Cameron asked Maney.
“Yes,” he replied.
But just moments after Cameron had accepted Maney’s plea, attorney Jason Billam, representing Mogenson’s family, told the court that they would have preferred for Maney to face the first-degree murder charge in a jury trial. Moreover, Billam said, removing the additional charges Maney faced — aggravated battery and obstruction of the legal process — made the plea deal too favorable for the defendant.
Cameron then set a sentencing hearing in the case for April. Mogenson’s family filed out of the courtroom, many with tears streaming down their cheeks.
Buffeted by bitterly cold winds on the courthouse steps several minutes later, Mogenson’s husband Mike addressed reporters, saying that he found the plea agreement “absolutely sickening.” Mogenson said the family had “made it clear” over the course of two mediation sessions with attorneys for the state and the defense that a plea allowing any of the charges against Maney to be dropped was unacceptable to them.
“We believe if you’re going to have a plea going down to second [degree murder], that’s fine as long as you take everything else,” Mogenson said. “They’re already getting the benefit of coming down from first.”
Without the additional charges of aggravated battery and obstruction of the legal process, the court will have limited leeway in determining Maney’s sentence. Billam said that, based on previous criminal history, Maney would face a recommended sentence of 188 months for the two charges to which he pleaded. Given the time he has already spent in jail since the accident and the possibility of early release for good behavior, Maney could be in jail for just over 12 more years. Had he faced the first-degree murder charge, Maney would have faced serving a minimum of 25 years on a life-in-prison sentence.
“Obviously no sentence that would be rendered or no agreement is ever going bring Tiff back. We fully recognize that,” Mogenson said. “And, being honest, no sentence would ever be long enough for me. With that caveat, in my opinion, the plea that was entered today, does a couple of things that benefit the defendant and do not benefit the citizens of Johnson County.”
Specifically, Mogenson said, should the case have gone to trial, it would have given the state the opportunity to set important precedent for similar future cases.
Maney faced a first-degree murder charge because Mogenson’s death came about as he was committing another felony — evading a police officer. According to Mogenson, prosecutors worried that making that first-degree murder charge stick could have proven an onerous task in court. State’s attorneys would have to prove that Maney was still fleeing from the police at the time his car struck Mogenson even though the police vehicle had turned off its lights at the time of the accident.
“There is a factual question in this particular case of whether or not people would believe that the pursuit was terminated or that he had ceased fleeing,” Mogenson said. “We don’t want this to be a question in the state of Kansas anymore. So we are comfortable, if there is a question in the law that needs to be addressed, we would be the ones to go forward. We would shoulder the burden of having to deal with this so other families didn’t have to. [The prosecutors] knew that. And we are still willing to do that.”
As it stands now, however, the family feels the court’s decision benefits Maney more than Johnson County residents or Mogenson’s survivors.
“To us, it feels like insult to injury,” Mogenson said.