Kansas AG petitions US Supreme Court to reinstate death penalty for Carrs, Gleason

Seeking to restore the death penalty for three murderers, including the Carr brothers who killed five Wichitans 14 years ago, Attorney General Derek Schmidt has filed a request with the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to overturn a state Supreme Court decision that vacated the killers’ sentences.

On Thursday, Schmidt sent three petitions to the nation’s High Court, seeking to reinstate death penalties for Jonathan and Reginald Carr; and for Sidney Gleason, who was convicted in an unrelated case of kidnapping and killing two people, including a potential witness to his role in a Great Bend armed robbery.

Schmidt’s filing contains a lengthy list of court precedents that he says show the state Supreme Court legally erred in overturning the sentences and some of the convictions in the cases.

In July, the Kansas Supreme Court vacated the death sentences for all three killers, citing errors in jury instructions and sentencing proceedings.

In the Carr case, the state’s highest court ruled that Sedgwick County District Court Judge Paul Clark, since deceased, erred by refusing to hold separate sentencing proceedings for the two brothers. Their lawyers had argued that trying the brothers in the same penalty phase forced them to damage each others’ defenses.

The state Supreme Court also found that jurors had not been properly instructed in the required standards of proof for a death sentence and that the Carrs’ rights were violated by admission of hearsay evidence during the penalty phase.

Both Carrs were originally convicted on five counts of murder and dozens of lesser charges in connection with a weeklong crime spree in December 2000. The capstone was the kidnap-murder of four friends killed after a night of terror, rape and abuse that began with a home invasion the night of Dec. 14.

The brothers were caught after a fifth victim survived an execution-style gunshot to the head and staggered through a remote frozen field to get help.

The Carrs also were convicted of murdering another woman who was shot to death in an attempted carjacking Dec. 11, and a brutal robbery and assault Dec. 7.

The state Supreme Court affirmed 25 of Jonathan Carr’s 43 convictions, and 32 of Reginald Carr’s 50, but only one count of capital murder against each brother in the quadruple killing.

While the single count would be adequate to justify death sentences for the brothers, the errors in the penalty phase required reversal of their sentences, the state justices ruled.

Schmidt argues in his filing that the state Supreme Court misinterpreted precedents and that trying the brothers in a joint penalty phase did not violate their Eighth Amendment right to individualized sentences.

“Even if the Eighth Amendment were to require severance in some circumstances, this case does not present any such circumstance,” the filing said.

The filing also argues that the problems with jury instructions and hearsay were “harmless error” that wouldn’t have changed the outcome.

In the Gleason case, Schmidt is challenging a state Supreme Court ruling that the jury had been improperly instructed on the levels of proof required to recommend a death sentence.

As in the Carrs’ case, Schmidt is arguing that other courts have ruled differently and that the instructions given in the trial complied with Kansas and federal law.

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.