Supreme Court justices say Kansas court wrongly overturned death sentences

In this combination of 2013 photos provided by the Kansas Department of Corrections, is Reginald D. Carr, left, and Jonathan D. Carr. (AP Photo/Kansas Department of Corrections)
WASHINGTON (AP) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled in favor of Kansas officials seeking to reinstate the death penalty for three men, including two brothers convicted in a crime spree known as the “Wichita massacre.”

The justices ruled 8-1 that the Kansas Supreme Court was wrong to overturn the sentences of Jonathan and Reginald Carr, and Sidney Gleason, who was convicted in a separate case.

The state court said juries in both cases 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 proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The lower court also had ruled that the Carr brothers should have had separate sentencing hearings instead of a joint one.

The Supreme Court said the Kansas court’s reasoning was flawed on both counts.

Writing for the court, Justice Antonin Scalia said there is no requirement to tell jurors in a death sentence case that they can consider a factor favoring the defendant even if it’s not proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Sidney Gleason (KSN File Photo)
Sidney Gleason (KSN File Photo)

“Jurors were told to consider any mitigating circumstance, even those not found to exist by other members of the jury,” Scalia said. “Jurors would not have misunderstood these instructions to prevent their consideration of constitutionally relevant evidence.”

The court also ruled that the district court was not required to hold separate a separate sentencing proceeding for each brother. Reginald Carr had argued that his sentence may have been unfairly tainted because Jonathan Carr blamed Reginald for being a bad influence during their childhoods.

“Only the most extravagant speculation would lead one to conclude that the supposedly prejudicial evidence introduced by one brother rendered the sentencing proceeding fundamentally unfair to the other,” Scalia said.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the lone dissenter, saying the case never should have been taken up by the Supreme Court. Sotomayer said the Kansas Supreme Court “has overprotected its citizens” and had a right to do so under its interpretation of federal and state laws.

Prosecutors in the Carr case said the brothers were responsible for a night of mayhem and murder in 2000 when they broke into a Wichita home and, over the course of several hours, forced the three men and two women there to have sex with each other and later to withdraw money from ATMs.

The women were raped repeatedly before all five were taken to a snow-covered soccer field and shot in the head. One woman survived a gunshot wound to the head after the bullet was deflected by a plastic hair clip.

It was a case Nola Foulston, the former Sedgwick County District Attorney says she spent two years putting together.

The news coming out today that the death penalty conviction of the Carr Brothers being reinstated was met with a sense of relief by Foulston.

“The marathon on this case is complete with the Supreme Court decision that came down today,” said Foulston.

District Attorney Marc Bennett was also relieved by the announcement, calling it a fairly momentous day in Wichita criminal history.

One of the issues that led to the U.S. Supreme court reversing the state’s decision, the joint trial for the Carr brothers.

“The sentencing phase should not have been tried together, that’s what the Kansas Supreme Court ruled and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that was not in fact the case,” said Bennett.

In a case that’s now gripped Wichita’s attention for more than a decade, Bennett is glad that some resolution can come for the survivor and the families of the victims.

“The relief those families must have felt to get this is palpable and the idea H.G. wont have to come back and testify is why i’m seating here right now,” said Bennett.

As for those like Foulston, she feels in the end, justice was served.

“What we did at the beginning lasted through all these years and finally comes to a point where we can really truly say justice has been done, and  that’s a really good feeling,” said Foulston.

Bennett says the case will be sent back to the Kansas Supreme Court for proceedings.

He added when it comes to direct appeals, concerning if the Carr brothers received a fair trial and if sufficient evidence was raised have all been resolved with the U.S. Supreme courts decision today.

Gleason was convicted in the February 2004 killing of Mikiala Martinez and Darren Wornkey in Great Bend. Martinez was a potential witness against Gleason in a previous robbery in which he was involved. Wornkey was her boyfriend.

Statement from Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt:

“Justice was served today in the United States Supreme Court.”

Statement from Governor Sam Brownback:

“I am pleased the victims and families no longer face the horror of reliving these terrible acts through a retrial.  I commend Attorney General Derek Schmidt and District Attorney Marc Bennett and all those who dedicate their lives to the cause of justice.”

Statement from House Speaker Ray Merrick:

“Eight out of nine Supreme Court Justices, across the ideological spectrum, reversed the Kansas Court’s opinion.  This decision is a victory for the families of the victims and the people of Kansas but it raises troubling concerns about why the Kansas Supreme Court would twist the United States constitution to rule in favor of two individuals who committed ‘almost inconceivable cruelty and depravity.’ The ruling is yet another reminder of the need for a more Democratic method of judicial selection in Kansas,” said Speaker Merrick.

Statement from Rep. John Barker,
Chair, House Judiciary Committee and Retired Judge

“Today the United States Supreme Court made it clear that the Kansas Supreme Court is out of step with the Constitution, the people of Kansas, and reality. This is the second time now that the U.S. Supreme Court has had to intervene and redirect the Kansas Supreme Court to follow the law and use reasoned judgment.”

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