The Wichita Massacre
I have often said that when choosing a case to be my next blog I always try to find one that the topic or something about it “catches” me so that it maintains my interest. I have tried to move down my list one by one but that often just wastes time because if the case does not grab my attention I tend to drag not just in the research but also in the composing. To add to that while a case may not grab me today, it just might tomorrow and I believe the more interest I have in the case, the more justice I will give it, no matter what my opinion of the case outcome may be. Now, one would think that with a title with the word “Massacre” in it that the first thing that caught me would have been the murders, but that would be wrong. In fact, in my list that word was not even there. I had the names of the two perpetrators, Reginald and Jonathon Carr. I also had a note that they were brothers, the case was from Kansas and that both brother were on death row. To be fair just going by those few notes I could not have told you if they were convicted for the same crime or if they just so happened to be brothers that had committed crimes and received the death penalty. I was intrigued just by the thought of brothers being on death row. I was interested in learning more about their family and their upbringing but sadly I found little to nothing pertaining to this. I was curious to know if these boys came from a family in which they learned violent behavior or from one in which people would be surprised that their parents had children who became criminals and murderers. It always seems that everyone is quick to blame the parents in situations, especially when offenders are very young. Reginald and Jonathon were twenty-two and twenty at the time of the Wichita Massacre but it appears that at least Reginald had already spent several years behind bars. Oftentimes criminals are also quick to blame their parents or their childhood for their criminal behavior. However, I have read too many cases where good, strong, law abiding parents have children who have become criminals. While I agree there are such cases in which a person is raised in an environment so horrible and riddled with criminal activity that it seems they would know no other way to live and it is not surprising how they are as adults, but in the end we are all responsible for our choices, good and bad. At some point there has to be first a line drawn as to how far is too far and secondly, a choice to do better than what we came from.
As I researched the case I agree that the crimes committed by the Carr brothers were rather heinous. I have read about and studied a lot of crimes and even I have to admit that the grisliness of their actions surprised even me. However, neither the crimes nor all of the back and forth court issues that appear to still go on some fifteen years later became the most surprising to me or the subjects I necessarily wanted to know more about. That came when I began reading articles and comments and bit pertaining to the attitude of not just general people, but the press around the time of the crimes.
One of the things that always bothered me during the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995 was how the media seemed bent on dividing people by race. I am not going to sit here and pretend when you saw pictures of people outside the courthouse that they were not predominately divided by race on each side... one proclaiming his guilt, the other his innocence. But I remember there being polls shown on the news that would say how white people and black people felt. Maybe I was offended because while I am a white woman and by the poll I was to believe strictly on his guilt I felt then, as I do now, that he may have been involved, maybe even “ordered” it, and I do believe he was involved in the cover up but I was never certain that he actually committed the act. On the other hand I do not believe he was targeted for his race. Yes he was a black man but if you knew anything about O.J. Simpson you knew he did not live in a “black world.” The majority of his friends were white and he obviously dated outside his race. In fact, it has been said that before the jury was given a tour of his home it was redecorated not just with African art, but with more pictures of black people inside, which he had not had at the time Nichole Brown-Simpson and Ronald Goldman were killed. I felt as if the press was dividing this country even more. Now, I am also not going to pretend that racism does not or did not exist, then, now or ever, but I do feel that it is the media's responsible to simply report fact and not incite things. The case of the Carr brothers also seemed to bring out things through the community and the media.
It appears that white people were angry that the Carr brothers were not charged with “hate” crimes because they were black and their victims, seven in all (five of them died), were white. Many people, apparently including journalists, expressed that had a white person done this to black people they would have been charged as such. I disagree. On the other side black people were said to have believed that this case was focused more on because it was a black on white crime and that the white victims were held to a higher esteem. Some of this thinking was based on the fact that just a week prior to the Carr's committing their crimes a black man had gone to the home of his girlfriend and killed four people, execution style in the back of the head (just as most of the Carr's victims had been killed). All of the victims in that case were also black. Again I disagreed with their assessment for two reasons. First, the media always focuses on a case until the next case comes along. So, I am sure the case of Cornelius Oliver, the man from the first case, who would ultimately receive a sentence that leaves him ineligible for parole until the year 2140, was front and center in the media until the night the Carr's committed their most vicious act. I also disagree with the assessment made due to the fact that the Oliver case was considered to be domestic, that is not an excuse from me that minimizes the lives of the victims, but the fact that the Carr's seemingly picked random victims made more sensationalism. For each time a comment made about the race of the perpetrators and the victims from the Carr crimes the district attorney would proclaim and staunchly defend his stance that race was not a factor. I have to applaud this. Once again I have started a rant about a case without giving details.... so let's see just what the Carr brothers did and what you think.
Most reports say that the Carr brothers arrived in Wichita not long before December 8, 2000. I cannot tell you where they came from or why they were there. I can tell you that when officers began looking for them after their crimes they were led to an apartment that was said to be occupied by Reginald Carr's girlfriend. Whether she came to the city with him or she was already there, I cannot say. At any rate on December 8th the brothers would kidnap a man named Andrew Schreiber. They were force him to go to multiple ATMs and withdraw money. At the end of the night he was left in a deserted area apparently unharmed, or at least not seriously harmed. Three days later they would shoot a fifty-five year old woman named Ann Walenta in the head as they attempted a carjacking. Some reports say that she died at the hospital three days later while a few others say it was a few weeks later. I am going to go with the latter reports for a few reasons. For one, it was said she was able to give a description of her attackers as well as point to the Carr brothers after they had been found. They were not arrested until at least four days after she was shot. The other reason I believe the later reports is while I attempted to confirm the date given as January 2, 2001 as the date of her death the fact that it was specific gives the report more credence.
On the night of December 14th the two brothers seemingly picked a home at random. Whether their plans were to simply rob the home or they had gone there planning to kill people is unknown. I can tell you that many years after their convictions and sentencing they have each gone into court placing blame on the other brother but I cannot say if either has ever stated what exactly, if anything, led them to this particular home or if there was any sort of premeditated plan. By most reports it was about eleven that evening that they went to the home where three men, Brad Heyka, Aaron Sander and Jason Befort lived. On that particular night there were two females in the home also, Heather Muller and a woman who would later be only known as “Holly G” or “H.G.” in court records. For purposes here I will simply call her Holly.
The Carr's entered the home and apparently got all of the occupants together in one room. Then one by one they went through the house looking for valuables. They then too everyone, who were now obviously hostages and made them remove their closthes and then they were bound. For the next few hours they proceeded first to rape the women and then force the male occupants of the home to do the same. Then, while Jonathon remained in the home, Reginald took each person separately to several ATM's to retrieve as much money as they could. Once that was done Reginald and Jonathon piled the hostages into two cars. At least one of them belonged to Jason Befort but whether the other belonged to the Carr brothers or to another occupant, I cannot say. They drove to a remote area on the outside of town where a soccer field complex was located. It was cold and snowy on that December night and most reports say that the hostages remained completely naked. There were a few that stated the women had on shirts only, but I cannot confirm either way.
Once at the soccer field it was said that the Carr brothers lined everyone side by side and shot each in the head. When that was done, one or both of the brothers got back in to Jason Befort's truck and ran over them before leaving the area. Brad Heyka, Heather Muller, Aaron Sander and Jason Befort would die at the scene. Whether it was instant death for them, we can only hope. Holly on the other hand had escaped death. Whether it was a barrette, as some reports say, or another type of hair item as others have reported, apparently the bullet had ricocheted and she had not received a direct hit like the others. Somehow she survived first that, and then being run over by the car. After the Carr's left the area the injured, cold and naked Holly found her way to a home for help and to have a 911 call placed.
The Carr brothers obviously believed that they had killed everyone and had no idea that Holly could identify them, or the car they were driving. An APB was released with the description of the car and both brothers. The following morning, on December 15th, the car was spotted in an apartment complex. It had only been about 5 hours since their reign of terror was completed with the shooting of their victims and the police were at the door of Reginald Carr's girlfriend. While they were speaking to her at the door, he was attempting to escape out a window. He failed and was captured. Reginald's girlfriend told police what type of car Jonathon was driving and he was found later in the day and also arrested.
Holly identified the brothers as the men who came into the home that night and later their two previous victims, Andrew Schreiber and Ann Walenta would do the same. Police had also discovered that after they had shot, and then ran over their victims, the Carr brothers had gone back to the home they had been with them and again scoured the home for valuables. In the process they had proceeded to also kill Holly's dog. Many items from the home had been found inside the apartment that they had found Reginald in so they had more than just identification from witnesses which was good for many reasons. Holly had apparently been critically wounded herself, not to mention so had Walenta, who as I stated would die sometime later. Schreiber seemed to be the only victim not seriously wounded or reported to have any sort of head injury. Even still just because Schreiber identified the brothers as his attackers it did not automatically mean they had also committed the other crimes.
The Carr brothers would have a dual trial, which over the years has brought questions in the court and has been a point of contention. The trial would begin on October 7, 2002. Between the two men they faced over 113 counts of misconduct, including 4 charges of capital murder and one count of first degree murder, each. Their jury returned with a verdict on November 4, 2002 in which they were found guilty on at least 93 counts. I attempted to discover what counts they were acquitted on but was not successful. Each brother had been convicted on the five counts of murder (each), fifteen counts of rape (each) and other charges such as a cruelty to animal charge for killing Holly's dog, kidnapping, battery, theft, robbery, and burglary. Because of his previous criminal history Reginald was also convicted on charges relating to his possession of a firearm. They were each given four death sentences, and a life sentence with parole after twenty years. In addition to that Reginald was given an additional forty-seven years while Jonathon received forty-one. It appears that the judge was attempting to ensure that if any appeals court overturned the death sentences that neither brother would ever be released from prison. And, that has been the fight over the years.
It appears that even as the four death sentences were being given that there was already a fight in Kansas on the death penalty. This is not unusual considering many states in the last several years have had this fight and several have abolished the death penalty. In fact in 2004 this happened in Kansas. The appellate court had ruled the law to be unconstitutional. The Attorney General however appealed that decision and won so the Carr brothers and all other inmates on Kansas death row were returned. Then in 2014 both Carr brothers had their sentences overturned due to what the court called a “trial judge error.” The argument was that the judge had not “separated the penalty process” for each defendant. Even still they reversed three of the four death sentences, still leaving one, plus apparently their remaining sentences. It was said that even if this ruling were to stand each brother still had to serve at least seventy to eighty years before being eligible for parole. Remember while they were still in their early twenties at the time they would be eighty to hundred years old before even being eligible. The odds of them remaining alive that long seemed like a stretch. Even still the Attorney General of Kansas also appealed that ruling and once again he won in January of 2016 when the United States Supreme Court stepped in.
I would like to say this was the end of things but my research indicated that once again the Carr brothers were in court in May of 2017 attempting to have their death sentences overturned. Their attorney's were arguing that neither brother received a fair trial basically because the trial was not severed. There were reports that Reginald had been restrained in court due to misbehavior and Jonathon's lawyers argued this made not Reginald, but Jonathon look bad. I found nothing to indicate if, or what decision, was made at that time. I would have to assume that if the courts once again rule in the brothers' favor that the Attorney General will fight it, although obviously depending on the decision I am not sure I agree that he should. It seems that an awful lot of taxpayer money is going into this case when, even with the successful appeals, the brothers will remain behind bars.
In nearly all of my cases I go to the state Department of Correction website when I am doing my research. This case was no exception. I am sure I have been to the Kansas site before but since I have been to so many I rarely remember what each state's site will reveal. I know that there are a few, like California, that tell you little more than if the person is still incarcerated. Kansas has one of the better ones. They give you detailed on current, and past convictions, as well as they also show you any disciplinary issues the inmate has had. Of course with all of the charges in this case the list was long, but I was able to get a good idea on the charges they were convicted on, hence while an article I found stated they had been convicted on thirteen counts each of rape I was able to determine it was fifteen. I found it interesting that both of the men are n the same prison. You do not often see this when it comes to those who commit crimes together, but I also have to wonder if possibly this is the only death row facility. I cannot say that is the case for certain but it would explain why they are housed together. It did not appear that Jonathon had a past criminal history, or at least not one that had sent him to actual prison. Reginald however had two prior convictions. One was in 1995 for theft and assault and another was in 1996 for possession of drugs. It appears that he was released sometime in 2000 for those crimes.
Both brothers had a long list of disciplinary actions or penalties since arriving in prison (Reginald had many the first time too). I am sure some of them were minor things that are simple violations of rules. But they seem to be continual. To use a comparison, remember I discussed Cornelius Oliver earlier? He was the man who went to his girlfriend's home and killed four people. He too had a list of disciplinary actions taken but while he had what seemed to be several over the the first few years he was in prison, they have diminished over the years to few or none. If one wanted to be understanding about this they could say maybe Oliver had issues adjusting, or he was defiant in the beginning and has settled in, or maybe he just simply grew up and accepted his fate. The same does not appear to be true when it comes to the Carr brothers as they they have also, like Oliver, been in prison for over fifteen years and continue to rack up a disciplinary file.
Normally I would have finished all my research on a case before sitting here and putting it together. There are times I go back and check a few things but for the majority of cases I have finished that part before moving on. There have been cases in which I haves specifically searched about the death penalty in the state but I had failed to do so in this case. As I was bringing this case to an end I decided to do just that and found some interesting information. First, I answered my own question about the brothers being housed together. According to Wikipedia (which while I agree is not the #1 source for fact but is generally a stepping stone), there are only 9 people (all male) (at least when t was written), who are awaiting death in Kansas. According to the site Kansas itself does not have a “death row” and all nine of these inmates are housed at El Dorado Correctional Facility. So while they do not have a specific place it does seem that all inmates who have been given a death sentenced are housed here. The site also states that only two states, Kansas and New Hampshire, reinstated the death penalty in 1976 but have not executed anyone. In fact, the last execution in Kansas took place in 1965. What this means is that the odds of the death penalty being carried out on the Carr brothers seems slim. I will admit though that in the past year it appears that some states who had either slowed down their rates of execution or stopped them completely due to the lack of being able to obtain the required medications to use have seemed to have picked things up and there seems to be renewed hope in having safe and non-eventful executions so who knows what could happen in Kansas. With that being said though it does strengthen my feeling that the Attorney General should stop appealing any overturned sentences related to the death penalty as it seems to be a waste of time and money. Looking at the Oliver case again, he too was sentenced in 2002 and is not eligible for parole for another 138 years. A search of his efforts only show that his convictions and sentence has stood the test of time. While there have been appeals they all appear to have been denied and it seems that case has obviously not been in the courts as often as the Carr case and the last time was 2014.
As I stated in the beginning, as heinous as this crime was, the argument about race, on both sides of the aisle seems almost to be more heinous. We live in a society in which it seems that there is always someone, somewhere that wants to bring race into the mix. I do applaud the prosecutor here who did not allow it, from either side, into the case. Maybe I am just tainted about it at the moment. My husband and I are in the process of re-watching the television show CSI. One of the cases we recently watched revolved around a group of young men and women who had taken to beating random people. In one incident a member of the CSI team saw a beating taking place and attempted to stop it while waiting for back up. In the process all the participants ran at first, except one. Keep in mind that all participants wore masks and so the race of the people (who did vary) were not known. The one remaining participant had proceeded towards the CSI member as if to assault him, to which the CSI member hit the accelerator of his car, hitting him. The young man would later die from his injuries. In the episode, and yes, I realize it is fiction, at an inquiry one particular juror seemed to make a big issue about the fact that the man who had died was a black man. Of course the things the judge in the episode allowed entered were utterly ridiculous (you know if you know the episode I am talking about), it all seemed to center around race. But it showed the mentality that is often expressed in cases. In that particular fictional case the race of the young man could not have been known prior to being hit by the vehicle, and yet, someone, somewhere would dispute that. In the Carr case it seemed to revolve around how the media handled it. Even some in the media appeared to bring judgment. In a court of law a defendant has the right to face their accusers as well as the jury that is to determine their guilt or innocence. I can see no other way it can be done properly to ensure a fair trial but sometimes I wish there was a way that the community, or even those deciding a person's fate could not know the race of a person. If that were ever possible cases could be judged by the merits of the facts and evidence and all the other petty arguments could go out the window.