Lawmakers scolded for wording in terrorism debate

Terry Lee Loewen

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers who use the name of a man charged in a Wichita terrorism case to push broadened civil and criminal anti-terrorism statutes are doing him disservice because he hasn’t yet stood trial, critics say, and some of the legislators involved in the discussion agree.

Terry Loewen, an avionics technician, has pleaded not guilty to charges related to his arrest Dec. 13 in a sting operation after allegedly trying to bring a van filled with explosives onto the tarmac at Mid-Continent Airport in Wichita. Among those charges is attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, the Topeka Capital-Journal (http://bit.ly/1fQNYCa ) reported.

The bill under discussion would expand the state criminal code regarding terrorism to include anyone who commits a terrorist act, those who “hinder the prosecution of any such crime” and those who “conceal or aid in the escape of any such crime. It also would allow victims of such crimes to file lawsuits and seek civil penalties against anyone involved.

“A few years ago we wouldn’t have maybe even been discussing a bill that takes civil action and forfeiture of property for acts of terror on Kansas property,” Rep. Kevin Jones, a Wellsville Republican, told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. “This bill is being brought before you at this time in light of recent events that happened in Wichita where a man attempted to drive what he thought was a van loaded with explosives onto the tarmac at the Wichita airport with the intent to kill as many innocent people as possible. So this bill is very appropriate for right now.”

His testimony was similar to comments he gave on the House side, where the bill passed 123-0.

Attorneys on both sides of the Loewen case, which is in the early stages, said they couldn’t comment.

Wichita defense attorney Dan Monnat, who is not involved with the Loewen case but has been following it, said Jones should choose his words more carefully.

“I’m always disheartened when I hear American government officials ignoring our time-honored presumption of innocence and right to a fair trial,” Monnat said. “None of us know anything about the Terry Loewen case. We only know the accusations of the government. Those accusations, as in any other case, must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Jones said Friday that Monnat has a good point.

“That’s actually a legitimate concern,” Jones said. “It was not my intention to pre-speak on a trial if he actually hasn’t gone through a full trial and been proven guilty.”

He said his testimony was based on news reports of allegations against Loewen, and he agrees that wording of his testimony might come off as condemning Loewen prematurely.

Any comments by Jones and others asserting or implying Loewen’s guilty could be prejudicial if widely publicized, said William Rich, a Washburn Law School professor who specializes in torts and constitutional law.

“What legislative action could do, and particularly all the news reports associated with the legislation is to create an unfair environment for his trial,” Rich said.

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Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, http://www.cjonline.com

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