The selection process of Kansas Supreme Court justices is likely to come under scrutiny after last week’s decision. The court overturned death sentences in the Wichita Carr Brothers case.
Last Friday the Kansas Supreme Court overturned three of the four capital sentences each for Jonathan and Reginald Carr. The brothers were convicted in 2002 of four gruesome murders committed in Wichita December of 2000. The death sentences were sought for reasons which include the facts that the murders were multiple and that the killings involved sex crimes.
"I think that the court said that it really doesn't matter because capital murder says you have to kill more than one person. And more than one person was killed, therefore we're only going to give you one capital murder," says Nola Foulston, District Attorney at the time of the Carr Brothers' trial.
Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce says that the GOP-dominated legislature thinks that the court is on an "activist" streak and wants the governor and the legislators to have more say in the selection of new justices.
The court has not upheld any death penalty sentence under the state's current law and no one has been executed in Kansas since 1965.
Justice Moritz, the only one of the seven justices who argued for the Carrs' sentences to be upheld, is leaving for a federal appointment. Fourteen judges and attorneys have applied for the vacancy.
As it stands now, the Supreme Court Nominating Commission will submit three finalists' names to governor Brownback and he'll pick one of the candidates.
The Kansas Supreme Court has overturned the death penalty sentences for the two Carr brothers. The brothers were responsible for what was called the "Wichita Massacre."
In December of 2000, Jonathan and Reginald Carr broke into a house in Wichita and subjected five young men and women to sexual abuse. They then drove them to ATMs and forced them to empty their accounts. Finally they took them to an abandoned soccer field and shot them all in the head. One of the brothers then drove over the bodies with a stolen truck. The bodies lay naked in the snow.
One of the victims identified as H.G. survived the shot as it was deflected by a barrette in her hair.
Several days earlier the Carr brothers had claimed their first victim as she tried to escape from them in an apparent carjack attempt.
The court ruled that there were multiple errors in the trial phase, including not allowing separate trials for each of the brothers.
It also cited sentencing phase errors including improper jury instructions on sex crime-based capital murder.
The court said that there were cumulative errors resulting in their ruling, which overturned three of the four death sentences for each of the Carr brothers.
New sentencing hearings will likely be ordered.
Update: District Attorney Marc Bennett said in a release 7-25-14:
"The result of the decision by the Supreme Court creates one certainty: Jonathan and Reginald Carr will not be released from prison. The conviction for capital murder carries with it a life sentence."
"In the coming weeks, we will communicate with the victims and families of the victims, we will review the entire 400-plus page decisions, and we will proceed accordingly."
State v. Reginald Carr
Read the court decision here.
State v. Jonathan Carr
Read the court decision here.