The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear Kansas’ appeal seeking to reinstate death sentences for Jonathan and Reginald Carr, brothers convicted of robbing, sexually assaulting and shooting five people in a Wichita soccer field in 2000.
The court also agreed to review a separate Kansas Supreme Court decision overturning the death sentence of a man convicted of killing a couple in Great Bend in 2004.
The justices said they will review the Kansas high court’s rulings that threw out the sentences for the Carr brothers and for Sidney Gleason. The Kansas court hasn’t upheld a death sentence since a new capital punishment law was enacted in 1994. The state’s last executions, by hanging, took place in 1965.
The U.S. Supreme Court will consider instructions given to jurors in the sentencing phase of capital trials about evidence favorable to the defendants as well as whether sentencing the Carr brothers together violated their rights.
Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said the Carr case is “important to us, important to the victims, important to this community. In terms of legal importance, well, I guess that is in the eye of the beholder. The U.S. Supreme Court obviously thought it merited their attention.”
Sarah Johnson, an attorney with the state capital appellate defender’s office who represents Gleason and Jonathan Carr, said they were “honestly a little surprised” that the court agreed to hear the cases.
“We don’t think this is an issue that really is worthy of the U.S. Supreme Court’s time and attention, but we are confident that once they get into it, they will recognize that the Kansas Supreme Court acted well within its discretion,” Johnson said.
The Kansas Supreme Court in July upheld one conviction of capital murder with respect to the Carr brothers but overturned their death sentences. That same month, the court also upheld Gleason’s conviction but reversed his death sentence.
“We have carefully analyzed the opinions of the Kansas Supreme Court and we do not believe they have correctly applied the U.S. Constitution,” Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said Monday in a statement. “I am encouraged the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review the cases.”
The Carr brothers broke into a Wichita home in December 2000 and forced the five people there to have sex with each other and later to withdraw money from ATMs. All five later were taken to a snow-covered soccer field and shot.
Four of them – 29-year-old Aaron Sander, 27-year-old Brad Heyka, 26-year-old Jason Befort and 25-year-old Heather Muller – died. One woman survived a gunshot wound to the head and ran through the snow to seek help.
Gleason was convicted for the 2004 murders of Mikiala Martinez and her boyfriend, Darren Wornkey. Martinez was a potential witness against Gleason in an earlier crime.
The cases will be argued in Washington in the fall.
Even if the Kansas Supreme Court decision stands, the Carrs remain convicted of murder and other crimes that will keep them in prison for decades, Bennett said last summer following the state Supreme Court’s decision.
“Best case scenario, we’re talking 70, 80 years from now before either would see a parole board,” he said.
The most important issue in the case, Bennett said at the time, is whether the judge caused an unfair situation by trying the brothers together instead of separately.
“Our argument would be however you would have tried it, however it was done, the evidence was such that it would have made no functional difference, (that) any jury, however it was empaneled, would have reached the same conclusion,” Bennett said.
Contributing: Tim Potter of The Eagle