By JOHN HANNA Associated Press
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court refused Monday to hear the appeals of two brothers who were sentenced to death for four fatal shootings in a Kansas soccer field in December 2000 known as “the Wichita massacre.”
Outgoing Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said the high court’s decision means Jonathan and Reginald Carr no longer have any direct appeals of their death sentences. However, Schmidt said, they can still file lawsuits in state and federal courts to try to prevent their executions by lethal injection.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s action came a little less than a year after the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the two brothers had received fair trials and upheld their death sentences. Kansas has nine men on death row, but the state has not executed anyone since serial killers James Latham and George York were hanged on the same day in June 1965.
Prosecutors said the brothers broke into a home in December 2000 and forced the three men and two women there to have sex with one another and later to withdraw money from ATMs.
According to authorities, the women were raped repeatedly before all five were taken to a soccer field and shot. Four victims died: Aaron Sander, 29; Brad Heyka, 27; Jason Befort, 26; and Heather Muller, 25. One of the women survived to testify against the Carr brothers. Other crimes over six days left a fifth person dead.
Each of the brothers accused the other of carrying out the crimes.
The Kansas court upheld their convictions in 2014 but overturned their death sentences, concluding that not having separate hearings violated the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed that decision in 2016, returning the case to the Kansas Supreme Court.
Attorneys for the brothers raised questions about how their cases weren’t conducted separately when jurors were considering whether the death penalty was warranted. Other issues they raised included the instructions that were given to jurors and how closing arguments were conducted.
The Kansas court’s majority concluded that while the lower-court judge and prosecutors made errors, those errors did not warrant overturning their death sentences again.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Monday came only hours before Schmidt, a three-term Republican, formally left office after losing the governor’s race in November. The new attorney general is Republican Kris Kobach.