Resolutions slow in Denham trial, KCI Airport planning

I’m not sure anyone really expected to have the next big break in Grayden Denham’s quadruple homicide trial, but when you see “death penalty hearing,” you show up anyway to see what happens.

Last week, the Platte County Prosecutor’s Office intended to present aggravating circumstances in the case that would warrant capital punishment, but no surprise, that didn’t end up happening. Instead, there was a continuance with the next hearing scheduled for two months in Platte County Circuit Court.

Don’t expect the movement to be swift.

We’re already more than a year removed from the grisly crime back in February of 2016 in rural Edgerton, Mo. where four of Denham’s relatives, including his sister and infant nephew, were found murdered with their bodies actively burning outside the family’s fire-engulfed home. The homicide charges — and a litany of other felonies — as a result of a grand jury indictment were filed in June.

Now, the court system will take its time in bringing about a resolution for the families of the victims and the accused.

These types of trials generally play out over a period of years rather than months, so no, I didn’t consider the scheduled death penalty hearing big breaking news. I expected to be disappointed with the outcome, and after just 15 minutes or so, my skepticism was affirmed.
This case in particular could be extra interesting to follow, even during these drawn out preliminary stages.

John O’Connor, Denham’s defense attorney, has filed various ethical complaints against Platte County prosecuting attorney Eric Zahnd and his office. So far, public court rulings have summarily and overwhelmingly rejected requests to have Zahnd’s office removed from his clients’ cases.

The smoldering animosity from O’Connor adds an extra layer for the court process to move through in Denham’s already heavily publicized case.

If you’re wondering when to expect a resolution, I’d say sit back and relax. Denham could end up housed in the Platte County Detention Center for a while, especially when you consider the recent guilty plea of Dana Tutor in Platte County Court.

Nearly a decade after she served as an accomplice in a murder committed at an Interstate 29 rest stop in Platte County, Tutor finally pleaded guilty to her role after several delays and a trial that ended in a hung jury. Denham’s jury trial had been scheduled to start this month, and that clearly won’t be anywhere close to the case at this point.

The only quick resolution here would be if Denham chooses to accept the previously offered plea deal, although there’s no indication whether or not that’s still in play. Trust in The Citizen to keep you posted as the story continues to play out.


In other potential resolutions, KCI Airport’s future appears to be clouded back up.

Burns & McDonnell presented a plan last month to provide private bond funding for a new terminal in Platte County, an innovative if not radical idea to finally solve the ongoing problem. Citizens were told that would mean the local architectural firm would be given control of design and construction with hope that the project could be completed with an accelerated timeline.

Previously, the City of Kansas City halted the process of funding a new terminal through aviation bonds after voters polled showed hesitancy. Neither plan puts citizens at serious risk of footing the bill on the billion-dollar project, but the private funding proposal alleviated that concern all together.

However, other companies have now asked for the chance to make their own bid proposals comparable to Burns & McDonnell, and Kansas City mayor Sly James agreed to hear them over the next few weeks.

A pair of public hearings held in May showed voters’ continued division on how to proceed. Some continue to insist on consideration for renovation of the current three-terminal system, choosing not to believe previous reports that show the cost of that project being exorbitant.

The good thing — and consequently the bad thing — about all of this process is the continued discussion. James has vowed to have any airport proposal go before Kansas City voters prior to moving forward with any construction, meaning that citizens will have the final say.

The continued back-and-forth creates good dialogue, but also doesn’t appear to be advancing the discussion at this point. The same back-and-forth exchange going on for years continues with no resolution in sight.

Remember, the big worry here continues to be that the state of Kansas could come in with its own proposal to meet the demands of the airline carriers, meaning KCI could end up on a different end of the Metro area. Options are good, but at some point, Kansas City — on the Missouri side — needs to pick one option and test its viability before time runs out.  

Ross Martin is publisher of The Citizen. He may be reached via email at Follow him on Twitter: @Citizen_Ross.