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Family Members Of Carr Brothers Victims Want To Oust Kansas Supreme Court Justices

Stephen Koranda
Vinny DiGiovanni and Amy Scott James speak to reporters outside the Kansas Judicial Center, which houses the Supreme Court.

A group of family members and friends of those killed by the Carr brothers are kicking off a campaign to unseat four Kansas Supreme Court justices. The justices face a retention election on the ballot this fall.

Amy Scott James was the girlfriend of Brad Heyka, one of the victims of the Carr brothers. She says the Kansas Supreme Court didn’t follow the state’s death penalty law when the justices overturned the death sentences for Jonathan and Reginald Carr. James says that was proven when the U.S. Supreme Court later overturned the Kansas court’s decision.

“If I don’t do my job, I get fired. If they don’t do their job, they just go back to their offices and keep getting paid. It’s time for someone to stand up and say something,” James says.

The Carr brothers were convicted of murdering five people in 2000 during a Wichita crime spree.

The Kansas Supreme Court overturned the death sentences and some of the murder convictions for the Carr brothers in 2014 because the justices said there were problems during the trial and sentencing.

Vinny DiGiovanni, the brother-in-law of Brad Heyka, says he was awestruck and angry when the Kansas justices made that ruling.

“The majority of Kansans decided that the death penalty is law in the state, and it should not be up to the Kansas Supreme Court justices to revoke that law,” DiGiovanni says.

Joyce Morrison, with Kansans for Fair Courts, says the justices should keep their job. She says the Kansas Supreme Court’s decision didn’t let the Carr brothers out of prison, and they’ll stay there until they’re executed or die behind bars.

Morrison calls the crimes in the case horrific, but says the state needs a stable court.

“This process is difficult, and it’s time-consuming, but it’s careful. That’s the kind of system that we want to keep in Kansas,” Morrison says. “We need our justices to remain fair and impartial and be able to do their job without the political winds trying to shift their opinions.”

Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and High Plains Radio covering health, education and politics.