WICHITA, Kan. – A judge entered a plea of not guilty Tuesday for a former church leader and city employee who is charged with 10 counts of murder in the BTK serial killings (search) that terrorized Wichita since the 1970s.
Dennis Rader (search) chose to stand mute during the brief arraignment and asked District Court Judge Gregory Waller to enter the plea for him. Waller entered the not guilty plea and set a trial date for June 27, although most expect the trial date to eventually be pushed back.
Rader, 60, a former city compliance officer from suburban Park City, was arrested Feb. 25 and charged in 10 deaths linked to the serial killer known as BTK. The killer had taunted officials and the public with messages; his nickname stands for "Bind, Torture, Kill" (search).
Prosecutors may not seek the death penalty because all the crimes Rader is charged with were committed before 1994, when Kansas passed its capital punishment law.
In an unusual maneuver, District Attorney Nola Foulston stood in front of Rader and formally served papers to him for the 1991 death of Delores Davis, the most recent slaying attributed to BTK.
Foulston told Rader she would seek a so-called "hard 40" sentence in that case, meaning 40 years without a chance of parole.
As Rader was being taken out of the courtroom, one victim relative was heard to say, "Don't worry, you won't last that long."
The earliest known crimes linked to the BTK strangler date to Jan. 15, 1974, when Joseph Otero, 38, and his 34-year-old wife, Julie, were found strangled in their home. Also killed were their 11-year-old daughter, Josephine, and 9-year-old son, Joseph.
BTK's next three known victims were young women found strangled in their homes: Kathryn Bright, 21, on April 4, 1974; Shirley Vian, 24, on March 17, 1977; and Nancy Fox, 25, on Dec. 8, 1977.
Police did not connect the Sept. 16, 1986, strangulation of Vicki Wegerle (search) to BTK until the killer resurfaced last year with a letter to The Wichita Eagle that included photos of the crime and a photocopy of her missing driver's license.
That letter was followed by several other cryptic messages and packages to local news media in the year before Rader's arrest, which came after a computer diskette the killer had sent was traced to Rader's church.
Rader also is charged with the killings of Marine Hedge, 53, who was abducted from her Park City home on April 27, 1985, and found dead along a dirt road eight days later. Davis, 62, was abducted from her Park City home on Jan. 19, 1991, and found strangled two weeks later. Neither of those deaths were linked to BTK until after Rader's arrest.
A trial is likely more than a year away because there is so much evidence that defense attorneys have not yet received from prosecutors, said Mark Orr, a spokesman for the public defender's office.
Recently unsealed documents show prosecutors have listed 247 potential witnesses, including law enforcement officers, relatives of the victims and reporters.
Rader waived his right earlier this month to a preliminary hearing, meaning prosecutors will not have to publicly reveal any of their case against Rader until trial.