Sedgwick County prosecutors this week will seek a Hard 50 prison sentence for a man convicted last month of stomping his girlfriend to death with steel-toed boots.
It will mark the second time this month that local prosecutors have bucked a June U.S. Supreme Court decision that some thought had invalidated the state’s Hard 50 law. The ruling said juries, not judges, must make factual findings that increase the mandatory minimum sentence of a criminal defendant.
In their notice to seek a sentence of 50 years without parole against Anson Bernhardt, prosecutors argued, in part, that the murder was committed in an especially heinous, atrocious or cruel manner. Bernhard, 42, is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday in the Sept. 30 death of Amber Kostner.
Another man, Tyrone Walker, received a Hard 50 sentence on Aug. 1 after he was convicted in the June 2011 strangulation death of Janis Sanders. Walker, 48, had been paroled four months before Sanders’ death after serving a 12-year sentence for killing 25-year-old Tamara Baker in Lawrence in October 1989.
Kansas law requires a judge to consider aggravating and mitigating factors before deciding whether to impose a Hard 50 sentence. The law lists several aggravating factors, including a prior conviction for a crime that caused death.
District Judge Joseph Bribiesca ruled that the Supreme Court ruling did not apply in Walker's case because he stipulated to the jury that he had a prior conviction for second-degree murder. Bribiesca ruled that the earlier conviction was a fact that did not have to be proven to a jury.
Bernhardt will be sentenced by District Judge William Woolley, who presided at his trial.
During Bernhardt’s trial, jurors watched a taped interview in which he initially denied knowing anything about Kostner’s whereabouts but eventually admitted that “I beat the crap out of her and dumped her body.”
Prosecutors said Bernhardt kicked Kostner 20 to 30 times while wearing steel-toed boots after the two had quarreled in a bar about breaking up. Bernhardt didn’t dispute a detective’s suggestion that Kostner may have lost consciousness after the first five kicks.
The defense argued unsuccessfully at the trial that Bernhardt “just lost it” and that there was no evidence of premeditation.