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Jury will be picked in March to decide Hard 50 case

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Dec. 13, 2013, at 5:43 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, July 18, 2014, at 2:11 p.m.

A jury will be empaneled in Sedgwick County District Court on March 3 to hear the sentencing phase of the trial of a man who has been convicted of kicking his girlfriend to death, a judge ruled Friday.

The jury will be asked to determine whether Anson Bernhardt, 43, should serve a Hard 50 prison sentence in the Sept. 30, 2012, death of Amber Kostner, 38.

A jury convicted Bernhardt of first-degree murder in July after watching a video that showed him admit 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.

Prosecutors originally intended to ask District Judge William Woolley to impose a Hard 50 sentence, arguing in court papers that the crime was committed in an “especially heinous, atrocious or cruel manner.” But their plans were blocked by 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 ruling prompted the Kansas Legislature to meet in a special session to rewrite the Hard 50 law, and the revised law allows for new juries to be empaneled to determine whether the Hard 50 should be applied in cases that already were in the pipeline when the Supreme Court ruling was issued.

Assistant District Attorney Matthew Dwyer told Woolley on Friday that the evidence he plans to present at the sentencing phase of Bernardt’s trial would be similar to the evidence presented at his first trial.

Defense lawyer Steve Osburn said he planned to hire a “mitigation specialist” to testify on Bernhardt’s behalf. Such specialists, who Osburn said typically work on death penalty cases, are asked to find mitigating factors that can benefit the defendant.

Under the law, the jury must weigh aggravating and mitigating factors when deciding whether a Hard 50 sentence is warranted.

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

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