TOPEKA – The U.S. Supreme Court today sided with Kansas and ruled that the death sentences imposed on two capital murder defendants in Wichita and one in Great Bend did not violate the U. S. Constitution, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said Wednesday.
In an 8-1 ruling, the high court rejected as incorrect the Kansas Supreme Court’s conclusion that the federal Constitution barred the death sentences recommended by juries in Kansas v. Jonathan Carr, Kansas v. Reginald Carr and Kansas v. Sidney Gleason.
“Justice was served today in the United States Supreme Court,” said Schmidt, whose office handled the state’s appeal.
Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett, whose office prosecuted the Carr cases in the trial court and worked with the attorney general’s office on the appeal, said, “We are very pleased for the victims and their families.”
On July 18, 2014, the Kansas Supreme Court overturned the death sentence in Kansas v. Gleason and on July 25, 2014, did the same in both Carr cases, citing federal constitutional error. Schmidt appealed those decisions to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the nation’s highest court agreed to review the Kansas decisions and to address two questions presented under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. On Oct. 7, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in the state’s appeal. Schmidt argued one question on behalf of the state, and Kansas Solicitor General Steve McAllister argued the other.
Today’s ruling settles the federal constitutional issues that were incorrectly identified by the Kansas Supreme Court. The cases now return to the Kansas Supreme Court, which will determine whether additional proceedings are necessary.
In the Court’s majority opinion, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, “In any event, our case law does not require capital sentencing courts ‘to affirmatively inform the jury that mitigating circumstances need not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. ... Jurors would not have misunderstood these (existing) instructions to prevent their consideration of constitutionally relevant evidence.”
“I am pleased the victims and families no longer face the horror of reliving these terrible acts through a retrial,” Kansas Governor Sam Brownback said. “I commend Attorney General Derek Schmidt and District Attorney Marc Bennett and all those who dedicate their lives to the cause of justice.”
Gleason was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in 2006 for the 2004 shooting deaths of Mikiala “Miki” Martinez and Darren Wornkey in Barton County. At the time of the murders, Gleason was on parole following a conviction of attempted voluntary manslaughter.
Gleason, who was from Lyons at the time, faced lethal injection for the February 2004 killings of Martinez and Wornkey. Prosecutors said Martinez witnessed Gleason’s participation in the robbery of a 76-year-old man. Gleason and his accomplice, Damien Thompson, worried about what she might tell police.
Authorities also said the robbers planned to kill her boyfriend if he got in the way. The killings took place a matter of days after the robbery.
Wornkey was shot while he sat in his Jeep outside his home. Martinez was taken to a rural area and strangled and shot.
Thompson avoided the death penalty by pleading guilty to Martinez’s murder, receiving a life sentence.
In July 2014, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld Gleason’s convictions, but reversed his death sentence.
The Carr brothers were sentenced to death for four killings, which occurred in Wichita in December 2000 and followed dozens of other crimes, including robbery and rape.
The Carrs were convicted following a December 2000 crime spree involving multiple murders and various sex crimes. They were convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death for the execution-style murder of four people in an east Wichita soccer field following a home invasion.
In July 2014, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld one conviction of capital murder with respect to both Jonathan and Reginald, but reversed their death sentences.
The state then appealed the decision to overturn the death sentences to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed this past March to hear all three appeals. The issues the U.S. Supreme Court will consider include jury instruction and separate sentencing hearings.
A copy of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision is available at http://1.usa.gov/1OwAs6D.