The Kansas Supreme Court this week upheld the sentence of Michael A. Fowler, who is serving two “hard 50” life terms for the murders of a Wichita couple at the Barton County Fair in 2018.
Following Fowler’s convictions for two counts of premeditated first-degree murder and one count of felony theft, Barton County District Judge Mike Keeley denied his motion for a downward sentencing departure. In addition to the two consecutive hard-50 life terms for the murders, he was sentenced to a concurrent 21-month term for the theft.
On direct appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed Fowler’s sentence. In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Melissa Standridge, the Court rejected Fowler’s claim that the district court abused its discretion by refusing to grant a downward departure sentence, citing the court’s comprehensive analysis that determined the mitigating factors advanced by Fowler did not constitute substantial and compelling reasons to depart from the statutory presumptive sentence.
Fowler did not contest facts that the State presented at his arraignment hearing. In the summer of 2018, 78-year-old Alfred Carpenter Jr. and 79-year-old Pauline Carpenter were working as vendors at the Barton County Fair. Fowler, Kimberly Younger and Rusty Fraiser worked for a carnival company that participated in the fair. The trio developed a plan to kill the Carpenters and steal their possessions.
According to court records, Younger and Fraiser may have told Fowler they were part of a “carnival mafia” and this act could initiate him into the crime family. Other individuals may have helped plan and cover up the crimes.
In the early morning of July 14, 2018, the threesome went to the location where the Carpenters had parked their truck, camper, and trailer. Alfred was outside behind the camper, and Pauline was asleep inside. Younger distracted Alfred by talking with him about the possibility of selling the trailer and camper, while Fowler sneaked up from behind and tried to slit Alfred’s throat with a knife. When Alfred resisted, a struggle ensued, during which Frasier stabbed Alfred repeatedly. Frasier then dragged Alfred into the camper. Fowler followed them and shot Alfred in the abdomen as Alfred lay on the camper floor. Fowler then located Pauline and shot her twice in the face, firing additional shots into her body. Both victims died from their injuries. The three drove the truck, camper, and trailer to Arkansas, where they buried the bodies in a remote park area.
The State filed a complaint charging Fowler with one count of capital murder along with alternative counts of premeditated murder and one count of theft. Fowler signed an agreement to plead guilty to two counts of premeditated intentional murder and one count of felony theft. The parties made no agreement for sentencing, leaving the matter open to arguments.
A plea for leniency
In his request for a downward departure to a 25-year sentence, Fowler proffered mitigation evidence that emphasized several factors: remorse and acceptance of responsibility; personal accomplishments showing a generally good character, such as military service and post-high school education; childhood and birth family challenges; special vulnerability to the influence of others, as shown by psychological testing; physical infirmities, including a heart condition and a head injury; a history of drug and alcohol addiction; and a compliant incarceration record.
The State’s response
The State opposed departure, pointing out that the culprits targeted the Carpenters because of their particular vulnerability based on their age and infirmity. Family members of the victims submitted statements to the court, which emphasized the brutal nature of the crimes, the selfish motivation for the crimes, and the great loss suffered by the family members.
The judge’s response
After hearing the arguments of counsel, Fowler’s statement expressing remorse, and the statements of the victims’ families, Judge Mike Keeley denied the motion for downward departure, citing the heinous nature of the crime:
“(This was) a horrible crime as no one disputes and even you don’t dispute it, that was committed by you. It was planned. It was premeditated. It was done for the purpose of stealing property, getting money, or perhaps joining a gang or mafia or something.” That does not allow anyone to take someone else’s lives, the judge continued.
“Those are choices that you made at that point in time,” Keeley said of the premeditated crimes. “I have a real difficult time in giving any sympathy to that because it was a choice that was made.” Keeley said he understood that Fowler “had a tough life in certain areas, and perhaps there’s been some mental illnesses that have affected this ...” However, he said, Fowler’s criminal history dates back to 1987.
“Granted, as you said, (your) criminal history was burglaries and grand auto theft and those types of things. Nothing to this extent. But this was something that was just heinous. ... I am not going to find any substantial and compelling reasons to grant a motion for departure to the 25 years.”
Fowler is now 57 years old and is in maximum custody at the El Dorado Correctional Facility. He is working in a job.