Blanchette Guilty of Schrag Murder

The man accused of beating 23-year-old Matthew Schrag to death with a baseball bat said little Monday afternoon after he pleaded guilty to the Jan. 23 murder. Robert Blanchette, 26, stood next to defense attorney Sarah McKinnon as District Court Judge Tim Chambers questioned him about his desire to waive his rights. Reno County District Attorney Keith Schroeder filed an amended complaint – dropping aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery charges – in exchange for Blanchette’s guilty plea for first degree murder and kidnapping.  Schroeder said convictions on the two dropped charges wouldn’t add much time to Blanchette’s prison sentence, which calls for 25 years for the first-degree murder conviction and another 20 years for the kidnapping. Blanchette killed Schrag after a late-night poker game ended with the defendant feeling he had been cheated. After driving around for a short time, Blanchette returned to Schrag’s home and asked him to refund some of the losses.

Blanchette, according to Schroeder, forced his way into Schrag’s mobile home at 1701 East Blanchard and hit Schrag with a baseball bat, knocking the man to the ground. Blanchette then grabbed a serrated knife and plunged the blade more than four inches into Schrag’s throat. Schrag ran toward the rear bedroom, where Jennifer Vogts had fallen sleep. Vogts told police she awakened to Schrag’s screams. Blanchette, whom Vogts couldn’t positively identify after the murder, continued to beat Schrag to death with the bat while Vogts sat frozen on the bed.  Autopsy reports estimate that Blanchette hit Schrag about 11 times with the bat, primarily in the face and head. Once Blanchette finished beating Schrag, he forced Vogts down a hallway toward the kitchen but then ordered her to head back toward the bedrooms and kneel. She refused, and Blanchette told her to return to the bedroom, cover her head with a blanket and count to 100.

Investigators found Schrag facedown on the bedroom floor in a pool of blood. Schroeder described the scene as “gory” and “gruesome” when he talked about the amount of blood found on the home’s walls and floors. Investigators interviewed several people who attended the late night poker party and initially sought Blanchette only as one of the poker players and not as a suspect. But investigators became suspicious when Blanchette refused to open the door of his Hutchinson home when officers sought to question him. They asked Blanchette’s girlfriend to open the door from the outside. Once inside, police found Blanchette sleeping in a house filled with natural gas. He had turned on the stove’s burners after putting out the pilot light.  After spending several days in the hospital, Blanchette told officers about Schrag’s murder and where to find the clothing he wore that night and the murder weapons. Schroeder said the plea was the best route for the prosecution. “He’ll get 45 years instead of 50, without putting the family through the trauma of a trial,” he said. “I think the family is pleased with this.” By Jason Probst for the Hutchinson News, Hutchinson Kansas. May 2, 2006. Page 1.

Matthew R. “Matt” Schrag, 23, died Jan. 23, 2006, at his home, Hutchinson.  He was born Dec. 16, 1982, in Hutchinson, the son of Steve J. and Michelle A. Wilson Schrag. He graduated from Little River High School. A lifetime Hutchinson resident, he was a server at Applebee’s Grill and Bar.  Survivors include: a daughter, Mattyson Schrag, Hutchinson; his father, Steve, Inman; his mother, Michelle Robley, Santa Fe, Mo.; three brothers, Casey, Lyons, Adam, Hutchinson, and Tony Hall, Inman; and grandparents, Arlene Woods, Texas, Melvin and Margaret Wilson, Grand Rapids, Minn., and Waneta Showalter, Newton.  He was preceded in death by a brother, Joshua T. Schrag, and grandfathers, Willard Schrag and Charles Theis. Funeral will be at 11 a.m. Friday at Elliott Mortuary, Hutchinson, with Pastor Matt Stafford presiding. Friends may sign the register from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday at the funeral home, the casket will remain closed. Burial will be in Burrton Cemetery.  Memorials may be sent to the Mattyson Schrag Memorial Fund, in care of the funeral home.

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