A Wichita man charged with taking part in a vigilante slaying in College Hill Park last year was convicted of first-degree murder Thursday after he took the stand and told the jury that his co-defendant was responsible for the crime.
Kyle Carter, 31, admitted that he chased burglary suspect Carl Cooper into the park after Cooper had burglarized a car, but he said he had no idea that the victim had been stabbed until long after the confrontation was over.
“Did you stab Carl Cooper?” defense lawyer Quentin Pittman asked.
“I did not,” Carter said.
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“Did Carl Cooper say anything to you to indicate he been stabbed?”
“He did not,” Carter said.
Carter told the jury that Trenton Custer, 35, was the one who stabbed Cooper. Custer is scheduled to stand trial on the same charge in July.
Prosecutor Justen Phelps told the jury in his closing argument that it didn’t matter which of the two inflicted the fatal wounds.
“Trenton Custer says Kyle Carter did it, and Kyle Carter says Trenton Custer did it,” Phelps said. “That’s exactly why the aiding-and-abetting law exists. The state does not have to prove to you which of these men stabbed Carl Cooper.”
Wichita police said Cooper, 32, was chased down and stabbed in the park by Carter and Custer after breaking into a BMW in the 400 block of South Clifton.
Carter told the jury that he and Custer were visiting the home of the woman who owned the BMW when the break-in occurred shortly before 4 a.m.
When the woman saw the burglary on a security camera, Carter said, she asked her visitors to go outside check her car. Carter said Cooper had a half-block head-start on him when he began chasing him on foot. He said Custer gave chase in his pickup.
Carter said he briefly lost track of Cooper when he went over a privacy fence, but later saw him in the park as he was being confronted by Custer.
“There was just a brief altercation between the two of them, and Mr. Cooper fell to the ground,” Carter said.
“Are you still running toward them?” Pittman asked.
“I am,” Carter said.
“Do you reach them?”
“Where was Mr. Cooper?”
“On the ground.”
“Where was Mr. Custer?”
“Backing away from him.”
Carter said Cooper was trying to stand up, so he took two swings at him. He said he missed with his right but connected with his left fist.
After that, he said, Cooper “pretty much laid on the ground.”
Carter said he found some change in Cooper’s pocket and threw it at him.
Carter’s version of events appeared to explain how Cooper’s DNA ended up under the cuticles of Carter’s left hand. But he also had to explain how he knew a knife was involved when police first asked him about a confrontation in College Hill Park involving a weapon.
“I knew that Trenton didn’t carry a gun on him,” he told Pittman.
“Ever see him with a knife?” Pittman asked.
“All the time,” Carter said.
Phelps then told the jury that it didn’t matter which of the men inflicted the fatal stab wounds.
“The evidence is not clear who stabbed Carl Cooper, but there is evidence that they both were there, and they both were involved,” he said.
District Judge Warren Wilbert scheduled Carter’s sentencing for June 25.