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Judge to decide whether to empanel special Hard 50 jury

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at 3:10 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, March 3, 2014, at 1:38 p.m.

A judge is expected to rule by Monday whether Sedgwick County prosecutors can move forward with their plans to empanel a jury that will decide whether a Wichita man should receive a Hard 50 prison sentence for the stomping death of his girlfriend.

A jury in July convicted Anson Bernhardt, 42, of first-degree murder in the Sept. 30, 2012, stomping death of Amber Kostner, 38. Bernhardt admitted to detectives that he kicked Kostner 20 to 30 times with steel-toed boots after the two had quarreled in a bar about breaking up. He said she was still breathing when he left her at the side of the road across from Campus High School in the 2100 block of West 55th Street South.

Prosecutors originally intended to ask Bernhardt’s sentencing judge to impose a Hard 50 sentence because the crime was committed in an “especially heinous, atrocious or cruel manner.” But their plans were blocked by a a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that said juries must make factual findings that increase the mandatory minimum sentence of a criminal defendant.

The decision prompted Gov. Sam Brownback to call a special session of the Kansas Legislature in September to rewrite the Hard 50 law. The revised law, which applies retroactively to cases that are not yet final, calls for new juries to be empaneled to determine whether Hard 50 sentences imposed by judges should stand.

During a hearing on Friday, Bernhardt’s lawyer, Steve Osburn, argued that despite the new law, the Hard 50 law as it existed at the time of Bernhardt’s crime was clearly unconstitutional.

Assistant District Attorney Matthew Dwyer likened the Hard 50 law to an island, and said, “All the Legislature did was create a new bridge to get to that island.”

District Judge William Woolley, who presided at the trial, said he would release a ruling on the matter by Monday.

Reach Hurst Laviana at 316-268-6499 or hlaviana@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @hlaviana.

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