An emotional Luke Wabaunsee pleads guilty to murder

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- In making a plea to the clubbing death of his girlfriend, a distraught defendant three times said "guilty" on Monday in Shawnee County District Court.

When sentenced in August, 35-year-old Luke Anthony Wabaunsee could face a prison sentence ranging up to 20-plus years, a defense attorney told Judge Cheryl Rios.

Wabaunsee was convicted in the intentional second-degree murder of Michelle K. Stadler, 42, in her apartment in Oakland. Stadler's body was found on October 27, 2018.

Wabaunsee originally was charged with premeditated first-degree murder in Stadler's death.

Based on the plea on Monday, at the low end, Wabaunsee could be sentenced to 18 years and five months in prison ranging up to a maximum sentence of 20 years and six months. The standard sentence would be 19 years and six months, according to the Kansas sentencing grid.

The judge was explaining Wabaunsee's rights to him when he became emotional.

"I'm not a mean person," he blurted out in an anguished cry.

"I'm guilty," Wabaunsee said moments later. The judge hadn't asked Wabaunsee for his plea at that point.

"I wasn't being mean to Michelle," Wabaunsee volunteered.

At that point, Wabaunsee and his two defense attorneys left the courtroom to take a 10-minute break in the nearby jury room.
The judge again was explaining Wabaunsee his rights and the proceedings the defendant was going through.

The judge outlined the possible sentences he faced, the fact police officers had been called to Stadler's apartment on October 27 where they found Stadler's body, that she had suffered blunt-trauma injuries to her head, and that police had found a glass mug in a trash container that had the DNA of Wabaunsee and Stadler on it.

Are those the facts that occurred in Stadler's death? the judge asked Wabaunsee.

"Guilty," Wabaunsee said, apparently meaning to affirm the facts in the case.

The judge asked for Wabaunsee's plea in the case.

"Guilty," Wabaunsee said.

Wabaunsee will be sentenced on October 3.

In December 2018 following a preliminary hearing, Wabaunsee was bound over on one count of premeditated first-degree murder.

Wabaunsee's jury trial was scheduled to start on Aug. 12.

In earlier testimony in the case:
-- Dr. Ransom Ellis, the Shawnee County coroner, said Stadler suffered "extreme blunt force trauma to the face and neck" as well as scrapes, lacerations and bruising. The frontal depressed head trauma likely was caused by an object that impacted the victim's skull in a small area, Ellis said. Stadler also had a bite mark on her right hand that fractured a finger, the coroner said. Meth and amphetamine were present in Stadler's system, the coroner said.

-- Stadler was "infatuated" with Wabaunsee, said Shawn Cunningham, who lived in the apartment complex and who often visited with Stadler, and the two would drink tea.

"Luke was a dream to her," Cunningham said. "She loved that man."

-- Cunningham said Wabaunsee encouraged Stadler to quit using meth.

-- Marcia Paden, a neighbor, testified she heard "a man's angry voice" in Stadler's apartment at about 10:40 p.m. on October 26, 2018. The man said "he was tired of the B.S., and he wasn't going to take it any more," Paden said, and it soon became quiet.

-- Police Detective Ryan Hayden interviewed Frank George Rector, a friend of Stadler. Wabaunsee didn't want to continue the relationship with Stadler, but she did, Hayden testified. At one point, Wabaunsee talked to Rector about his relationship with Stadler.

"What am I supposed to do? Kill this (epithet)?" Wabaunsee told Rector.