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Wichita Horror Fuels Debate over Hate Crimes By: Valerie Richardson
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, February 13, 2001


The Washington Times | February 11, 2001

A HORRIFIC WEEK-LONG crime spree that ended with five persons dead in Wichita, Kan., has exposed a raw nerve over the selectivity of prosecuting hate crimes.

Two brothers, Reginald D. Carr Jr., 23, and Jonathan D. Carr, 20, were charged last month with multiple counts of capital murder, kidnapping, sexual assault and robbery of eight victims between Dec. 7 and Dec. 15. Because the Carrs are black and their victims were white, some Wichitans also expected the brothers to be charged with hate crimes. When prosecutors refused to do so, the result was a local outcry that soon became a national cause celebre as the news spread from the pages of the Wichita Eagle to the Internet.

The case, known as the ``Wichita Horror'' on some Web sites, has magnified a deep-seated belief among some that when it comes to crime, white victims are seen as less deserving than those who belong to a racial minority.

``It's just a fact that this whole crime spree was perpetrated against members of a certain race by perpetrators of a different race,'' said Del Riley, a Wichita billing clerk who has written letters about the situation to his senators, congressman and the president. ``Hate crimes work both ways. When the district attorney and the media suggest that they don't, it tends to create racial animosity,'' he said. ``If the shoe were on the other foot, it would create a national uproar.''

Critics say the case's gruesome nature places it in the same category as that of the murders of Matthew Shepherd, who was beaten to death because he was homosexual, and James Byrd, the black Texas man who was dragged to death by whites. The Carr brothers are accused of robbing and shooting a local symphony cellist, Ann Walenta, 55, outside her home Dec. 11. She died Jan. 2.

Three days later, police say, the Carrs broke into a home, abducted five friends -- three men and two women -- and forced them to withdraw money from a local automated teller machine. The Carrs are also accused of raping and sodomizing the female victims and forcing the male victims to perform sex acts with the women. Ultimately, the five victims were taken to a deserted soccer field, ordered to kneel and shot execution-style in the head. Miraculously, one of the female victims lived and walked naked and bleeding across the field in subfreezing temperatures to seek help.

The name of the surviving woman was not released, but the other four victims were Jason Befort, 26, a high-school science teacher; Brad Heyka, 27, a finance director; Heather Muller, 25, a preschool teacher, and Aaron Sander, 29, who was planning to become a priest. The survivor and Mr. Befort were engaged to be married, according to sources quoted in the Wichita Eagle.

District Attorney Nola Tedesco Foulston, responding to a rash of complaints, held a news conference to explain that she was unable to charge the Carrs with hate crimes because Kansas has no hate-crimes law. The state does have a special penalty provision in which a sentence can be enhanced if the crime is based on racial animosity, but Mrs. Foulston insisted that the primary motive was robbery, not racial hatred.

``The Carrs are African Americans. Their victims were white. But the fact that the defendants and the victims happen to be of different races has no bearing,'' Mrs. Foulston said at a Jan. 4 press conference. ``Let's just look at the underlying crimes.''

Paul Cromwell, a criminal justice professor at Wichita State University, supported the district attorney's decision. ``These people were out to commit a robbery -- they followed their victims home from a convenience store,'' he said. ``If that had been a black person, they would have done the same thing. It wasn't `Let's go get Whitey.'''

He said the angry letters, calls and e-mail to the Eagle and the district attorney's office, estimated at several hundred, are mainly from white supremacists with an agenda to push. After making comments to the newspaper, he said, he received a rash of vulgar calls and letters from white groups in Idaho and California.

``I've gotten lots of threats from all kinds of fruitcakes, wackos and white supremacists,'' Mr. Cromwell said. ``They're really dying to make this a hate crime. Most of these people's agenda is white supremacy and here are these black people killing white people.''

Taking exception to that theory is Louis Calabro, president of the European-American Issues Forum in San Bruno, Calif., and one of the case's most vocal critics. He planned a demonstration outside the San Francisco Chronicle building to protest the newspaper's failure to run stories on the Wichita murders.

``It's the silliest thing in the world to say that because it's a robbery, therefore it's not a hate crime,'' Mr. Calabro said. ``You have to have a crime before you can have a hate crime.'' He questioned whether investigators had interrogated the brothers about their views on whites. He also blasted a judge's decision last month to seal the records, making it impossible to discover whether the brothers made disparaging racial remarks to the victims during the crimes. Without such information, say critics, the crime will only fuel suspicion and place strains on racial relations within the community.

``People are afraid to get involved when it's a black-on-white situation because it's politically incorrect, but they feel what they feel and they think what they think,'' Mr. Riley said. ``They need to understand why this happened -- was it just a robbery or was it a hate crime? And locking up the evidence doesn't help matters.''

© Copyright 2001 Washington Times

(Posted on FrontPageMagazine.com 2/13/01)




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