October 21, 2015

By Irene Burski

The question in Kansas v. Gleason and Kansas v. Carr isn’t whether or not the respective defendants, Sidney Gleason as well as brothers Reginald and Jonathan Carr, are guilty of their crimes, but whether certain procedural missteps, which some characterize as significant and others characterize as technicalities, taken by the court in each case are enough to challenge the legality of death penalty convictions.

The defendants in both cases were originally found guilty of high-profile, horrific murders.

Gleason was convicted in a double homicide case, the February 2004 killings of South Bend residents Miki Martinez and Darren Wornkey. The Carr brothers were convicted for perpetuating and carrying out what has become known as the “Wichita Massacre,” a notorious crime spree lasting from Dec. 7 to Dec. 14, 2000, involving the rape, murder, and armed robbery of random victims.

In July 2014, the Kansas State Supreme Court, in a 5-2 majority, overturned Gleason’s death sentence on the grounds that the jury which convicted him at the time of his trial was given improper instructions by the judge.

In the same month, the Kansas State Supreme Court also ruled in a 6-1 majority that the Carr brothers’ death sentences should also be overturned, on the grounds that the Carr brothers should have been sentenced separately in different proceedings rather than together.

Should the Supreme Court choose to uphold these rulings from the Kansas State Supreme Court, six of nine prisoners originally sentenced to the death penalty in Kansas could have their sentences overturned. Meanwhile, young people have led the way in an overall drop in support for the death penalty: research shows 51 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds support the death penalty and 43 percent stand opposed compared to a 59-36 split in 2011.

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