Gov. Brownback stunned by supreme court's Carr brothers decision
Gov. Sam Brownback says he's stunned by Kansas Supreme Court decisions overturning the death sentences of two brothers for a December 2000 robbery, rape and kidnapping spree that ended with four fatal shootings in Wichita field.
Brownback said Friday that the decisions in the cases of Jonathan and Reginald Carr unnecessarily reopen the wounds from what he called a tragic moment in Wichita history.
In overturning the death sentences, the court's majority said the brothers should have had separate sentencing proceedings to determine whether they faced lethal injection or life in prison. The court also overturned three of each man's four capital murder convictions.
Brownback called the crimes brutal and heinous and said the Carrs were convicted by a jury of their peers before an elected trial-court judge.
The Kansas Supreme Court has overturned the death sentences given to two brothers who were convicted of killing five people in a crime spree in Wichita in December of 2000.
The court issued two opinions Friday in the appeals filed by 36-year-old Reginald and 34-year-old Jonathan Carr. The court said the trial judge failed to separate the penalty proceedings against the brothers.
The court upheld 32 of Reginald Carr's convictions and 25 of Jonathan Carr's convictions, including one capital conviction for each. The court reversed three of the four capital convictions against them because jury instructions were erroneous, and because three of the multiple-homicide capital murder charges were duplications. The court also overturned some of the sex crime convictions for the Carrs because of lack of district court jurisdiction.
The state supreme court found a total of 11 errors in the guilt phase of the trial, but a majority of the justices ruled that the errors did not require further reversals of the convictions. It said the combined weight of the errors "pales in comparison to the strength of the evidence against the defendants."
The Carrs were convicted in the December, 2000 killings of 29-year-old Aaron Sander, 27-year-old Brad Heyke, 26-year-old Jason Befort and 25-year-old Heather Muller. They were terrorized and robbed at an east Wichita home and then taken to a soccer field where they were shot. A fifth victim, a 25-year-old woman, survived and ran to a nearby home for help.
The brothers were also convicted in the shooting death of 55-year-old Ann Walenta on December 11th in a carjacking and robbery attempt in east Wichita.
The cases of the two brothers will have to go back to Sedgwick County district court for more hearings and a new sentencing.
Sedgwick County district attorney Marc Bennett and Kansas attorney general Derek Schmidt released a joint statement after the court's ruling was announced:
“We are carefully reviewing the two opinions, which together constitute nearly 500 pages and address numerous legal issues. Some issues were decided favorably for the state, and others were not. We will work closely together in the coming days and weeks to determine the next steps that must be taken in these cases. All options will be considered. We are committed to seeking justice in this case for the victims, their families and the community.”