Carr brothers case back in court, Sedgwick County DA Marc Bennett releases statement

Crime

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – The case involving two brothers convicted in a crime spree in December 2000 in Wichita that left five people dead was the focus of arguments in the Kansas Supreme Court Monday.

Jonathan and Reginald Carr were convicted in 2002 on four counts of capital murder, one count of murder, one count of attempted murder, and multiple counts of rape, kidnapping, and robbery.

The week-long crime spree involved the robbery of an assistant baseball coach and the carjacking of Ann Walenta, a local cellist, who was injured and later died in the hospital. A few days later, the brothers broke into a home where they abused and terrorized the five friends present inside for hours. Finally, after being forced to take money out of ATMs, they were taken to a field, shot in the head, run over, and left for dead. Brad Heyka, Heather Muller, Aaron Sander and Jason Befort were killed.

One woman survived when a bullet hit a barrette in her hair. During the trial, she was referred to as H.G. Her testimony was key in the case.

Though the brothers’ convictions have been upheld, the sentencing phase of the capital murder charges is the focus of the appeal process.

The courts heard arguments on the sentencing phase, including errors that may have taken place during sentencing. The court will ultimately make a ruling again whether the death penalty should be upheld or overturned on other grounds

“What we have argued is that the prejudice in not allowing him to present his defense in the guilt phase leached into the penalty phase,” said Debra Wilson, attorney for Reginal Carr to the Kansas Supreme Court on Monday.

Wilson argued Reginald Carr should have been able to testify that he was not responsible and that it may have been a case of mistaken identity.

The attorney for Jonathan Carr told the Kansas Supreme Court there were circumstances that mental health issues for Jonathan needed to be addressed in sentencing.

“What we have argued is that the prejudice in not allowing him to present his defense in the guilt phase leached into the penalty phase,” said Clayton Perkins, attorney for Jonathan Carr.

Both defense attorneys say the proceedings for the brothers should also have been separated in the penalty phase. They also claim there were issues with jury instructions. The defense for the State of Kansas argued none of that should impact the jury sentence of death.

“There was no error,” said David Lowden, attorney for the state. “To the extent that this court does find error, we submit that none of those errors raised to the level of being reversible error. That they were harmless error basically.”

KSN Legal Analyst Dan Monnat says the proceedings are not swift in death penalty phase arguments.

“When the government seeks the ultimate penalty,” said Dan Monnat. “The ultimate degree of care must be given to the human being involved.”

The case could be brought back to Sedgwick County eventually. If it does, the district attorney in Sedgwick County would make the call if there will be a new jury to repeat just the sentencing phase.

On Monday afternoon, Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett released the following statement:

“The Kansas Supreme Court heard arguments today in the cases of State v. Reginald Carr and State. v Jonathan Carr.   David Lowden, former Chief Attorney of the Appellate Division of the Office of the District Attorney, 18th Judicial District, argued the case for the State of Kansas while appellate attorneys, Debra Wilson and Clayton Perkins, presented arguments on behalf of the respective defendants. 

In 2014, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld the guilty verdicts against both defendants but overturned the verdicts of death against each defendant. That decision was based on a finding that the United States Constitution had been violated by the penalty phase of the two cases having been tried together.  Other issues raised by the defendants on the grounds of Kansas law were not decided at that time.

The State of Kansas appealed this decision to the United State Supreme Court and in 2016, the US Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Kansas Supreme Court. The matter was back today for arguments on the remaining issues not decided by the Kansas Supreme Court in 2014.

At the close of the arguments today, the Kansas Supreme Court took the two cases “under advisement,” meaning the court will now review the case and issue final decisions at some future date.  The Court does not offer an estimated time frame as to when they will issue final opinions.”

Watch the Kansas Supreme Court arguments

The court is in recess until 1:30 p.m.

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