Legislation proposed to punish kidnappers more harshly

Friday, January 25, 2008 | 5:52 p.m. CST; updated 4:54 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

KANSAS CITY — The mother of two slain children joined lawmakers Friday to promote legislation that would impose harsher sentences for parents convicted of kidnapping their children.

Lawmakers said the case of Tina Porter’s ex-husband, Daniel Porter, highlighted a gap in the current law that makes it possible for parents to escape severe sentences in extreme parental abduction cases.

In Porter’s case, he had offered various stories about what happened to 7-year-old Sam and 8-year-old Lindsey after they went missing during a weekend visit with him in the summer of 2004. In one version, he had cut them up. In another, they were living with a “well-off family.”

Before leading authorities to their bodies in September, Porter was convicted of four kidnapping charges.

But in December, an appeals court dismissed two counts of kidnapping with intent to terrorize while upholding the two parental kidnapping convictions. The court found Porter couldn’t be found guilty of “unlawfully” removing his children from their mother’s home because it had been a regularly scheduled visit.

The ruling briefly shrunk Porter’s sentence from 38 years to eight years in prison because the current maximum sentence for each of the parental kidnapping counts is four years in prison. That shortened sentence has since been supplemented with a life sentence, which was handed down earlier this month after Porter admitting to shooting his children.

Under the proposed law, which lawmakers plan to introduce Monday, the maximum sentence for parental kidnapping would increase to seven years for parents who detain or conceal the whereabouts of their children from 60 to 119 days. And parents could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison if their children are missing at least 120 days.

“This new legislation that is being proposed will not only deter and prevent parental kidnapping crimes from occurring in the future, it will give prosecutors across the state the tools we need to adequately prosecute these crimes and punish those who commit these crimes,” said Jackson County prosecutor Jim Kanatzar, speaking from the lobby of his office.

He was joined by the bill’s sponsors — Sens. Victor Callahan, D-Independence; Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City; and Chris Koster, D-Harrisonville.

“What this law recognizes is that when a parent steals a child from another parent for an extended period of time that a higher level of prosecution, a higher level of sentence, is the correct punishment for such a crime,” said Koster, also a candidate for attorney general and a former Cass County prosecutor.

Both Kanatzar and Koster said parental kidnapping cases are far too common. Koster said his experience as prosecutor was that such abductions outnumbered other types of kidnapping cases by a ratio of 10- or 20-to-1.

“In a world where an enormous percentage of parents are single-parent family situations and where custodial rights are murky or hazy and not particularly well-documented in court documents, the potential for this kind of situation is widespread,” Koster said.

Tina Porter thanked the lawmakers for acting quickly to address the issue and vowed to testify on behalf of the bill in Jefferson City. Koster predicted that the judiciary committee would have a hearing on the bill within a month and that it would be debated on the Senate floor by mid-March.

“I think it is going to help a lot of people,” Porter told reporters. “A lot of people ... more people than you can even imagine.”

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