Man on death row for rape, murder of Kansas woman appeals sentence

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Justin Thurber Jodi Sanderholm Justin Thurber Jodi Sanderholm

A man convicted of kidnapping and killing an Arkansas City woman 10 years ago is trying to have his death sentence overturned by the Kansas Supreme Court. 

Justin Thurber was convicted and sentenced to death for the January 2007 death of 19-year-old Jodi Sanderholm. The prosecution alleged that Thurber stalked members of the Cowley College dance team and followed Sanderholm from dance practice. He drove her to a rural part of Cowley County, then raped and murdered her. A ruling will come later.

Investigators later recovered Sanderholm's car, then found her body near the Kansas/Oklahoma state line.

A justice 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.

The Sanderholm family said there was a competency hearing during the original trial and Thurber was found to be completely competent at that time. 

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

When questioned further by Supreme Court justices, Thurber's attorneys said that Sanderholm's suffering is speculation.

Jodi's mother, Cindy Sanderholm, sat in the in the courtroom upset to hear the abduction, rape and murder spoken of in such a way. She says Thurber has been writing letters to other girls while in prison and that should show that he's competent.

"That's sick. It's just sick," Cindy said. "It tells you that he is competent enough to reach out to people and write letters. He knows what he is doing."

Follow KAKE's Gloria Van Rees on Twitter for details from the courtroom. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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