TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday overturned the death sentences of two brothers convicted of capital murder in a case involving robbery, rape and the fatal shooting of four people whose bodies were left in a snow-covered Wichita soccer field.
The court also struck down three of the four capital murder convictions each against Jonathan and Reginald Carr. It upheld one capital murder conviction for each of them.
Prosecutors said the attack that culminated in the December 2000 deaths of 29-year-old Aaron Sander, 27-year-old Brad Heyka, 26-year-old Jason Befort, and Heather Muller, began when the brothers broke into a Wichita home.
The armed intruders forced the five people there to have sex with each other and later to withdraw money from automated teller machines. Two women were raped repeatedly before all five were taken to the soccer field and shot while they were kneeling. Four of them died. One of the women survived a gunshot wound to the head and she ran naked through the snow to seek help.
She became a key witness at the brothers’ trial where they were convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death.
Larry Heyka, the father of murder victim Brad Heyka, expressed disappointment and said he was struggling to make sense of the court’s rulings, which totaled nearly 480 pages.
“It seems like it takes a lot of time to get through these things, but we will do whatever it takes,” said Heyka, who is from Council Grove. “Hopefully going forward, we will all understand what these rulings really mean.”
On Friday, a 6-1 majority in the Kansas Supreme Court overturned the Carr brothers’ death sentences because the presiding judge did not hold separate sentencing proceedings for each man. The court narrowly rejected — 4-3 — the brothers’ claim that their convictions should also be overturned because they also didn’t have separate trials to determine their guilt.
In overturning most of their capital convictions, the majority said the instructions to jurors had been flawed because the judge tied those capital murder charges to the rape of the surviving victim, not the deceased ones.
The brothers’ cases will return to Sedgwick County District Court for further proceedings.
The attorneys who represented each brother did not return telephone messages seeking comment.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett issued a joint statement saying they were reviewing the decision, and that some legal issues were decided in the state’s favor.
“We are committed to seeking justice in this case for the victims, their families and the community,” they said in the statement.
Jonathan Carr, now 34, and Reginald Carr, 36, were in their early 20s when the crimes occurred. Together, they were convicted of 93 crimes, including rape, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated robbery and sentenced to death.
The Supreme Court upheld a total of 57 convictions against them. Most of the overturned convictions involved the allegations of forcing their victims to engage in sex acts.
Five other convicted murderers remain on death row in Kansas. The state Supreme Court last week overturned the death sentence of Sidney Gleason in the killings of a Great Bend couple in 2004. Last year it ordered a new trial for Scott Cheever in the shooting of the Greenwood County sheriff in 2005, though the U.S. Supreme Court later ordered the Kansas court to reconsider.
Kansas’ last legal executions were in 1965, by hanging. The current capital punishment law was enacted in 1994, but the state’s highest court has yet to approve any death sentences.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett released the following statement to Kansas First News on the Kansas Supreme Court’s decisions in State v. Reginald Carr and State v. Jonathan Carr:
“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.”