By Andy Taylor

INDEPENDENCE — A 17-year-old teenager from Caney will be classified as an adult while facing a first-degree murder charge in a February homicide.

On Friday, Judge Jeffrey Gettler ruled that enough factors exists to have Stevan Ranes, age 17, of Caney charged as an adult in the Feb. 8 death of Brock Sanders, also of Caney. Ranes faces one count of premeditated first-degree murder. If convicted, Ranes faces the possibility of life in prison.

Ordinarily, juvenile crime cases are closed to the public. However, Friday’s hearing was open to the public, which allowed for the first details of the Sanders homicide to be disclosed publicly.

According to an autopsy report, Sanders sustained 17 stab wounds and numerous abrasions in a violent
confrontation with Ranes at Sanders’ home at Ninth and Fawn streets in Caney on the evening of Wednesday, Feb. 8. The fatal stab wound came in a blow to the right side of the neck, where a knife blade severed Sanders’ carotid artery and damaged his vocal chords. Among the other stab wounds were punctures to the scalp, temple, back and chest.

Dr. Eric Mitchell, the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, said the fatal wound likely caused death within seconds of being inflicted.

Mitchell also said abrasions were found on multiple areas of Sanders’ body, indicative of some sort of a struggle or even possibly post-mortem. Horizontal cuts were found on Sanders’ fingers and forearms, an indication of being cut by a sharp instrument.

Mitchell also testified that Sanders’ blood had high concentrations of marijuana and methamphetamine.

Sanders’ body was discovered under a sofa in his living room on the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 14 — six days after the deadly altercation. The body was found by Chris Williams and Chad Dunham, detectives with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department. Dunham testified that he noticed blood and hair underneath the sofa when the beam of his flashlight illuminated the area under the sofa.

“At the moment when the body was discovered, we contacted the KBI and started to string police tape around the property in an effort to preserve the scene,” said Dunham. “The house was now a crime scene.”

Law enforcement officers initially investigated the case as a missing persons report when members of Sanders’ family were unable to locate the Caney man after Feb. 8. It evolved into a homicide case after the discovery of Sanders’ body in his home on Feb. 14.

Ranes was a person of interest in the Sanders’ disappearance because he was the last-known person to be in contact with him, according to testimony from Jeremy Newman, KBI special agent. Newman said law enforcement and KBI agents were able to piece together Facebook messages, as well as security camera footage from the Gunny Sack convenience store in Caney, to pin Sanders’ location in the community on Feb. 8.

Newman interviewed Ranes twice at the Caney Police Department on Feb. 13 and 14, when the case was still a missing persons report. Those videotaped interviews were shown at Friday’s hearing.

In those interviews, Newman pressed Ranes for details about social media messages between he and Sanders. The messages revealed that the two had intended to meet sometime on Feb. 8 at Sanders’ house. Those were the last-known messages to come from Sanders’ social media account, Newman said, adding that Ranes was a “person of interest” in the case with the discovery of those messages.

In the second interview, Newman asked Ranes about cuts and bruises that appeared on his hands. Ranes said the cuts came while he was cutting wood. The bruising and swelling on his fingers came, Ranes claimed in the interview, while he was punching walls in his outdoor shed as a way to relieve aggression.

It was during that second interview when Newman is pulled away from the interview by Ron Wade, Caney police chief. That’s when Wade informed Newman that Sanders’ body had been discovered. It was Newman who told Ranes that Sanders’ body had been discovered.

In a third interview, which occurred on Feb. 14, Ranes was formally arrested and given his Miranda rights by Newman. That’s when Newman asked Ranes for details about Sanders’ murder. Ranes then confessed to have confronted Sanders on the evening of Feb. 8 about methamphetamine use between Sanders and Ranes’ uncle. Sanders and Ranes’ uncle were co-workers at Kopco, Inc., in Caney.

That confrontation turned into an altercation that began near the back door to Sanders’ house and continued
indoors, Ranes claimed.

Ranes claimed the stab wounds were afflicted as a matter of self-defense, after Sanders had Ranes pinned to the floor and was attempting to strangle or choke Ranes.

Ranes then said he sat in the house for 30 minutes before deciding to put Sanders’ dead body under the sofa.

“I put him under the coach. I didn’t want to tell my family, and I just didn’t know what to do,” said Ranes.

Asked why he didn’t call police about the matter, Ranes said, “That’s something you wouldn’t tell anyone.”

Called to testify on Friday was Clarissa Clarke, who was Ranes’ girlfriend at the time of the homicide. Clarke said she was not aware of Sanders’ death until Friday, Feb. 10. A quiet and despondent Ranes eventually opened up to Clarke about the killing, saying he stabbed Sanders in the neck.

Clarke did not ask any more questions about the homicide, nor did she contact anyone about it for fear of being drawn into the case. Pressed further by county attorney Larry Markle for her reason in not contacting law enforcement about the homicide, Clarke said, “I did not want to lose him (Ranes).”

Clarke also said she saw red marks on Ranes’ neck that night. Ranes told Clarke that those red marks came from the struggle between he and Sanders.

“Stevan said Brock had him on the ground and started to choke him,” she said.

Another person who testified as to Ranes’ knowledge in the case was Andru Pond, age 19, of Sedan. Pond said he came to Caney on Thursday, Feb. 9 to drop off information at a local income tax preparation firm. He then contacted his friend, Stevan Ranes. After playing video games at Ranes’ grandparents’ (Stevan Ranes lived with his grandparents as part of a court-ordered juvenile placement), Ranes asked Pond to assist him in digging a fire pit in his back yard. Ranes complied and began digging. However, the digging took longer than expected, at which time Pond joked with the Ranes that the pit was “big enough to put someone in.”
Ranes’ grandmother, June Ranes, also checked on their backyard project and joked that the fire pit looked big enough to bury a person.

After June Ranes returned inside the house, Stevan Ranes confessed to Andru that he had something to tell him.

“He said that hole was for someone,” said Pond.

Stevan Ranes then crawled under a portion of the deck in the Ranes’ backyard, where he pulled out a blue jacket that was covered with blood stains.

Pond said he didn’t think more about the incident, believing it to be a joke.

After meeting friends at Wark Memorial Park and the adjacent skatepark that evening, Pond and Ranes returned to the Ranes house at 606 S. Fawn. However, before reaching the house, Ranes turned to Pond and said he wanted to show him something in Brock Sanders’ house, which was located at 600 S. Fawn.

Pond said Ranes used the flashlight app on his cell phone to illuminate an area of concrete near the back door. That’s where Ranes showed Pond some blood stains.

“Stevan then walked in the house and said something to the effect of ‘I wonder if he is still there’,” Pond recalled. “Stevan then lifted up the couch, and that’s when I saw Brock’s body. I said, ‘That’s crazy,’ and Stevan then put down the couch.

“We didn’t talk about it. I went outside and started to smoke a cigarette because I was so nervous. We went back to Stevan’s house, and I just kept calling Stevan a ‘crazy mother f—er’. I kept telling Stevan that he was crazy, and he just said ‘Yea.'”

In Ranes’ house, Pond and Ranes played video games, smoked marijuana and passed out in the late-night hours. The next day, Pond had an invitation to a party at an area called Osage Plains. Pond and his girlfriend bought a bottle of Kentucky Deluxe liquor and went to the party.

“I told her that I saw something crazy in Caney,” he confessed.

Pressed by Markle for a reason for not contacting law enforcement about seeing the body and realizing that he was digging a hole that was believed to be a grave in Ranes’ backyard, Pond confided that he was too traumatized to put anything into action.

“I guess you can I was just in shock,” he said.

Pond finally told a family member about his Ranes’ knowledge of the case and the location of the body. The family member then contacted the Caney Police Department, which then followed up with the discovery of Sanders’ body in his house.

A KBI agent testified Friday that physical evidence showed the deadly altercation had a different set of events then compared to Ranes’ testimony. Newman said the altercation likely began on the front porch of the house and continued in the yard, where the fatal stab wound appears to have taken place, as indicated by the large amount of blood that had pooled on the ground and saturated the soil.

Drag marks on the grass and dirt indicate Sanders’ body was then pulled into the house via a plastic tote, where Ranes then placed the body under the sofa. Blood stains were prevalent along the drag marks and on the plastic tote, Newman said.

“The amount of blood in the yard and on the box did not correspond with Mr. Ranes’ story about the altercation taking place in the house,” said Newman.

Adult classification

Friday’s hearing also was held to determine if Ranes should be tried as an adult. Under state law, persons charged with felony crimes under the age of 18 are afforded certain protections and rehabilitation resources due to their age. To convince Judge Jeffrey Gettler that Ranes should be tried as an adult, two persons with knowledge of Ranes’ previous criminal history as a juvenile addressed the court.

Nancy Finely, who is a court services officer for the 14th Judicial District, said Ranes had two previous criminal incidents. In the first incident, which occurred in 2014, Ranes pleaded no contest to discharge of a firearm and criminal deprivation of property. He was placed on probation and subsequently completed the required courses to complete probation.

He enrolled at Caney Valley Jr.-Sr. High School in August 2014 but was expelled two months later for bringing a knife to school, she said. He then enrolled in an alternative school that was made available through the Caney Valley school system. He ultimately was expelled from the alternative school.

Ranes was then arrested in May 2015 when he was found to be in possession of drug paraphernalia. That conviction led to juvenile detention and placement through a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center.

Finley said she examined Ranes’ social history and upbringing, where a continued series of social and mental issues caused him act out.

“In reviewing his social history, Stevan said he never felt like he had lived as a child,” she said. “He was not interested in being a child or as a teenager. He wanted to be an adult.”

She also said school was never a priority for Ranes, as indicated by being expelled twice.

He ultimately was removed from his home and placed with his grandparents under a court-ordered placement.

Duane Powell, director of Family and Children Services, said he was involved in Ranes’ care following his drug conviction (and subsequent probation revocation) in 2015. Powell said Family and Children Services personnel provided numerous resources, including family therapy, anger management, drug and alcohol treatment, social skill development. He completed all programs by mid-January 2017.

Asked if Ranes had any other juvenile services resources that could be rendered to him in the Sanders’ homicide, Powell said there were none.

“You have exhausted all your resources?” asked county attorney Larry Markle.

“Yes,” said Powell.

Phil Bernhart, who was Ranes’ court-appointed attorney, appealed to Gettler to retain Ranes’ classification as a juvenile. He said he did not think the corrections system had exerted enough resources to provide Ranes with the needed rehabilitation.

Bernhart also said he described the altercation Ranes and Sanders as “just an intoxicated brawl.”

“This is a case of either manslaughter or self-defense,” said Bernhart “Clarissa Clarke testified about the red marks found on Stevan’s neck, which indicates he was being strangled.”

Markle rebuffed Bernhart’s description of the event. He said Ranes was not intoxicated during the altercation. He also said Ranes should be tried as an adult after taking the killing of Brock Sanders to a premeditated level.

He cited the testimony of Newman, the KBI agent, who believed Sanders may have fled the house and was struck and killed by Ranes in the front yard.

“That decision to leave the house and follow Sanders into the yard was the premeditation,” said Markle.

After conferring 20 minutes behind closed doors, Gettler chose to classify Ranes as an adult. Gettler said Ranes fit the eight criteria set forth in state law for placing a juvenile in an adult court.

Ranes, who has been in custody at a juvenile detention facility, will now be placed in the Montgomery County Jail to await his next hearing, which will take place on Thursday, June 22. Bond has been set at $750,000.

Because Bernhart is the court-appointed attorney for juvenile crime matters, a new court-appointed attorney will be chosen for Ranes because of his classification as an adult.

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