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Jackson County homicide sentences average 2 years longer than MO state average, per new analysis

Jackson County Courthouse
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Posted at 6:54 PM, Feb 19, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — People convicted of homicide in Jackson County face sentences two years longer than the average for homicides statewide, according to a new analysis by the Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office’s Crime Strategies Unit.

As Kansas City has sadly bucked the downward trend nationally in violent crime, prosecutors in Jackson County also have seen a surge in cases referred to them — primarily by the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department, which deploys the largest police force in Missouri.

Five years ago, Jackson County averaged 5.1 homicide prosecutions per month in 2019.

That number has spiked to 8.5 homicide cases per month in 2023, peaking at 8.8 homicide cases on average from mid-2022 through mid-2023.

But as violence has surged, so has the judicial response with a 66.7% increase in monthly homicide cases during the last four years.

"My office is demonstrating through this data that we are handling more homicide cases than we've ever handled," Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney Jean Peters Baker said in a statement. "And we are handling them more effectively. Our outcomes on these cases are strong with results that rival or surpass the average for such charges in the state of Missouri."

During 2023, Baker’s office disposed of 102 homicides with 93 convictions, including 77 via guilty plea — a conviction rate of nearly 91.2%.

Another 19 cases went to trial, with Jackson County prosecutors securing a conviction in 16 of those 19 cases, while two were referred to a special prosecutor, two were dismissed for lack of evidence, one resulted in an insanity plea and the defendant died in another case.

The average sentence in those cases, whether resolved by plea or trial, was 27.6 years — a 19% increase from 2019 when the average sentence was 23.2 years — and roughly 2.1 years longer than the average sentence for a homicide conviction among all Missouri Department of Corrections inmates at the end of the last fiscal year on June 30, 2022.

Despite a perception that Jackson County is lenient on violent offenders, the data suggests the county prosecutor’s office is highly effective at prosecuting such cases and the commensurate sentences are 8% longer than the state average.

Baker was quoted in the report describing a recent conversation with a law-enforcement official who believed Jackson County homicide convictions typically resulted in a 10-year sentence from her office: "I was floored that his perceptions were so off. But his perceptions are part of a general refrain that is not in line with the data. Those views may be formed because prosecutors generally work without media and without law enforcement alongside of us."

Overall, there were a total of 124 homicide cases referred to the Jackson County prosecutor’s office last year. Of those:

  • 69, or 55.6%, were filed;
  • 32, or 25.8%, were declined for prosecution;
  • 23, or 18.5%, remain under review.

There are several reasons prosecution might be declined — including self-defense issues, which accounted for 15 declined prosecutions, or 12.1%, of all homicide referrals in Jackson County in 2023.
Insufficient evidence (nine), transfer of jurisdiction (four), the need for further investigation (three) and one suspect’s death (one) accounted for the other declined prosecutions last year.

“The Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office remains committed to delivering justice to victims of violence and optimistic that, in partnership with our law enforcement partners, we can turn the tide on violence in Jackson County,” the prosecutor's office said in announcing the 2023 homicide analysis.

The last four years have been the most violent in Kansas City’s history.

Beginning with 2020, when the city set a new record for homicides in a season (179), the surging violence hasn’t really abated.

The number of homicides dipped to 157 in 2021, but that was still the second-deadliest year in the city’s history, and the trend reversed sharply during the last two years with 170 homicides in Kansas City in 2022 and a record 182 last year.

Of those KCMO homicides, 175 were committed in Jackson County and the other seven took place in Clay or Platte counties.

KCPD referred cases to Jackson County for consideration of charges in 92 instances, or in 52.6% of cases, and cleared another six homicides without a referral of charges.

That number does not reflect homicide cases from prior years that may have been referred for prosecution.

There were another 27 homicides in eastern Jackson County suburbs, including 15 that were referred for charges by those police departments.

If you have any information about a crime, you may contact your local police department directly. But if you want or need to remain anonymous, you should contact the Greater Kansas City Crime Stoppers Tips Hotline by calling 816-474-TIPS (8477), submitting the tip online or through the free mobile app at P3Tips.com. Depending on your tip, Crime Stoppers could offer you a cash reward.

Annual homicide details and data for the Kansas City area are available through the KSHB 41 News Homicide Tracker, which was launched in 2015. Read the KSHB 41 News Mug Shot Policy.