The death penalty can be reinstated for three men, including two brothers who were convicted in Kansas’ “Wichita massacre," according to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On Jan. 20, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that the Kansas Supreme Court was wrong to overturn the death penalty sentences of brothers Jonathan and Reginald Carr, and Sidney Gleason, who was convicted in a separate case, the Associated Press notes.
Gleason was convicted of murdering Mikiala Martinez and Darren Wornkey in 2004.
The Carr brothers were convicted of murder, kidnapping, robbery and rape for a crime spree that took place in December 2000, the so-called “Wichita massacre,” CNN reports. It began when they carjacked and robbed one victim, attacked a woman who later died from her injuries, and invaded homes of other victims whom they kidnapped and raped. Five of the victims were taken out into the snow and shot in the head, with one woman surviving only because the bullet was deflected by her plastic hair clip, according to the AP.
Justice Antonin Scalia, writing on behalf of the justices, called the Carr brothers' murders “acts of almost inconceivable cruelty and depravity,” adding that the sole survivor, Holly, saw a house with Christmas lights and "started running toward it for help -- naked, skull shattered, and without shoes, through the snow and over barbed-wire fences," CNN reports.
The Kansas Supreme Court threw out the death sentences of the brothers, who were tried together. The court contended that jury instructions violated the Eight Amendment, because the jury was not told that evidence of the Carr brothers' troubled childhoods -- and other factors that would weigh against the death sentence -- did not have to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The court also claimed that the brothers should have had separate sentencing hearings.
The U.S. Supreme Court found the lower court’s arguments to be flawed on both counts.
Scalia wrote that that "joint proceedings are not only permissible but are often preferable when the joined defendants' criminal conduct arises out of a single chain of events.”
”Only the most extravagant speculation would lead to the conclusion that the supposedly prejudicial evidence rendered the Carr brothers' joint sentencing proceeding fundamentally unfair," Scalia added.
On the Eighth Amendment issue, Scalia wrote that there is no requirement to tell jurors in a death sentence case that they may consider something even if it cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
“Jurors were told to consider any mitigating circumstance, even those not found to exist by other members of the jury,” Scalia wrote, according to the AP. “Jurors would not have misunderstood these instructions to prevent their consideration of constitutionally relevant evidence.”
The cases will now return to the Kansas Supreme Court.
“I am pleased the victims and families no longer face the horror of reliving these terrible acts through a retrial,” Gov. Sam Brownback said in a statement following the ruling. “I commend Attorney General Derek Schmidt and District Attorney Marc Bennett and all those who dedicate their lives to the cause of justice.”