Exactly one week before Kyle Shipps ends his 20-year career on the Prairie Village Police Department, the Kansas Supreme Court put to rest perhaps the biggest case of his career. Shipps was the detective who re-opened the Lizabeth Wilson case in 2000 with the backing of his Lieutenant, Wes Jordan, who is not the department chief.
“I was thrilled,” Shipps said of the court ruling that denied the appeal of John Henry Horton from his second murder conviction in the Wilson case. Ironically, the court ruling came just days after the 40th anniversary of Wilson’s disappearance as she walked home from the Prairie Village Municipal Swimming Pool. Horton was a custodian at SM East High School at the time.
“The timing was incredible,” Shipps said of the ruling coming a week before his retirement and the start of a new job. “It was the only piece of unfinished business.” Shipps said he received a text from a chief in a neighboring department telling him about the court ruling. Shortly after, he got a call from Johnson County Prosecutor Steve Howe.
“My favorite part was being able to call the family,” Shipps said. “They were ecstatic.” This appeal of the second conviction has lasted approximately five years. When Shipps and his partners began working the Wilson cold case, it had already been 26 years since her disappearance and murder. Horton was arrested 29 years after the murder.
Horton’s first conviction was reversed on appeal, but he was immediately arrested and tried again and in 2008 he was convicted for the second time.
Horton’s latest appeal had several points, all of which were rejected by the court. The defense had maintained that transcripts of jail telephone conversations by a witness against Horton should have been allowed. The jury was already deliberating when the transcripts became available. “The telephone conversation evidence which Horton urges this court to send to a jury as part of a retrial is very weak in terms of its probative value. In some ways, it bolsters the State’s case…..,” the court said.
The ruling did find that a jury instruction was not “legally appropriate” but added “the record simply does not support reversal on this issue.”
Horton is serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 15 years. A three-part series on the case ran on PVPost.com earlier this year: