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Kansas Supreme Court upholds death sentences for Carr brothers

Department of Corrections

The Kansas Supreme Court has upheld the death sentences for brothers convicted of a series of robberies, assaults and murders in Wichita.

The Kansas Supreme Court affirmed the death sentences of brothers Jonathan and Reginald Carr on Friday.

The two were convicted in a series of robberies, assaults and murders in Wichita more than 20 years ago.

Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett, whose office prosecuted the case, said he contacted family members of the victims and the woman who survived the attack after the ruling was released.

“I think that the simplest way to put what I heard from everybody was relief,” Bennett said. “All of them expressed relief that we’re this far along and that they are certainly pleased with today's resolution of this stage.”

The court’s action Friday was the latest in a long, winding judicial path that began after the Carrs were convicted in 2001.

“Although the wheels of justice may turn slowly, they do ultimately propel us all forward,” Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said in a statement.

The legal saga began when the state Supreme Court overturned the brothers’ death sentences in 2014, saying they should have had separate sentencing hearings after being convicted.

The court also ruled that the jury should have been told that evidence of the men’s troubled childhoods and other factors weighing against a death sentence did not have to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Bennett and Schmidt appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, with Schmidt arguing before the justices.

In 2016, the high court overturned the decision by the state’s supreme court, ruling the Carrs’ constitutional rights were not violated.

It returned the case to Kansas, which led to Friday’s separate rulings, one for each brother.

The state high court ruled that the death penalty does not violate the “inalienable right to life” in the Kansas Constitution. It said “a defendant who has been convicted of capital murder beyond reasonable doubt forfeits this right, and the state is free to impose lawful punishment for the crime.”

The court also reviewed more than 20 penalty phase errors that were raised by attorneys for the defendants but not addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court. It said any errors that occurred would not have affected the death sentence verdict.

“While some of (Reginald) Carr's remaining issues demonstrate that his trial was less than perfect, none suggest he received anything other than a fair trial,” Justice Kenyen “KJ” Wall Jr. wrote in the court’s opinion.

The Carr brothers were convicted in a series of crimes that occurred in December 2000. They included the robbery and kidnapping of a former Wichita State baseball player and the shooting of a Wichita Symphony member, who later died of her injuries.

The Carrs later invaded a home in east Wichita. They terrorized the five people inside, including two women who were sexually assaulted. They drove one woman to an ATM and made her withdraw money.

All five were taken to a snowy field near Kansas 96 and Greenwich Road in Wichita and shot. One woman survived. She later identified the Carr brothers at trial.

Prosecutors also introduced DNA evidence at trial linking the brothers to the crime scene. They also recovered stolen property taken from the home at their apartment.

Bennett said he was grateful because the ruling means his office won't have to conduct more hearings in the case.

"The prospect of putting the ... surviving victim back on the stand in a hearing some 20 years after this occurred was not something that I would've taken lightly or would've looked forward to," he said. "So for her alone, I would simply say I'm very pleased."

Bennett said his office will be in contact with Schmidt if future appeals are filed by the defense. He said the case remains a priority even two decades after it happened.

“This case will always have a high place of emphasis in this office as long as I'm here," Bennett said.

Schmidt said there are currently nine people on death row in Kansas, seven of whom have exhausted their direct appeals.

Kansas reinstated the death penalty in 1994, but it has not executed a prisoner since 1965.

Tom joined KMUW in 2017 after spending 37 years with The Wichita Eagle where he held a variety of reporting and editing roles. He also is host of The Range, KMUW’s weekly show about where we live and the people who live here. Tom is an adjunct instructor in the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University.