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Wichita to Revisit Brutal Slayings as Testimony Begins By: Valerie Richardson
The Washington Times | Monday, October 07, 2002


For nearly two years, residents of Wichita, Kan., have tried to push from their minds the image of a young woman, naked and bleeding from a head wound, running for her life across a frozen soccer field. 

But beginning today, the memories of "the Wichita horror" will be impossible to escape when testimony begins in the multiple-murder trial of Reginald and Jonathan Carr.

The brothers, 24-year-old Reginald and 22-year-old Jonathan, face 113 criminal counts, notably kidnapping, rape, robbery and five murders, in connection with a crime spree from Dec. 7 to Dec. 15, 2000, that terrorized Wichita and much of Kansas. If convicted, they could receive the death penalty.

The case also has added its chapter to the culture wars by fueling a backlash against hate-crimes laws and feeding resentment against the national media for avoiding coverage of the case because, many in Wichita say, of political correctness.

The Carr brothers are black, and each of the five victims was white. At the time of their arrest, Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston refused to charge them with hate crimes, explaining that the main motive was robbery, and that Kansas did not have a hate-crimes law.

Her decision touched off an outcry in Wichita and on the Internet among hate-crimes law opponents, conservatives and others. The online publication FrontPage, founded by author David Horowitz, said the Wichita case illustrated a national double standard.

"The indifference of government, media and civil-rights leaders to crimes such as those alleged to have been committed by the Carr brothers send a clear message across America that some lives matter and some lives don't," the magazine said shortly after the murders.

Comparisons were made to the 1998 dragging death of James Byrd, a black man, by three white Texans, which became a leading national story, a rallying cry for hate-crimes legislation, and the subject of a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People attack ad on George W. Bush in 2000 presidential campaign. The killers of Mr. Byrd were convicted and sentenced to death. In 1998, 102 stories in the New York Times referred to the Byrd case. In contrast, several online searches of the Lexis/Nexis database and the New York Times site failed to produce a single staff story about the Wichita slayings.

Mrs. Foulston's office countered that the Carrs faced the death penalty, a sentence that cannot be enhanced by any hate-crimes designation, which was a point noted in the Byrd case. Her decision to ask the Wichita court to seal the records in the case led to speculation that she was trying to cover up evidence of racial hatred by the Carr brothers.

The race issue continued to fester during jury selection last week, when both prosecutors and defense lawyers tried to exclude a black man, a Boeing employee, from the jury. The defense objected to his strong support for the death penalty, while the prosecution said he appeared sympathetic toward the Carrs because of their race.

"I hate to see young black men go through this," the man said during jury selection.

But Sedgwick County Judge Paul Clark refused to dismiss him, citing the U.S. Supreme Court precedent in Batson vs. Kentucky, which bars courts from striking black jurors on the assumption that they would favor black defendants.

It took three weeks for the court to sift through the largest jury pool in county history to select the 12 jurors, 10 white and two black. One-third of the jurors said they had assumed the Carrs were guilty, but added that they could keep an open mind during the trial.

Critics have faulted the national newspapers and television networks for avoiding covering the case. The trial, which is expected to last four to six weeks, will be covered by Kansas newspapers and two local cable channels that plan to broadcast the trial live.

Court TV said it would show only trial highlights. The cable network's original plan to broadcast the entire trial live went awry when the jury selection took longer than usual, overlapping another trial in New Jersey.

Ellie Jostad, a press agent for Court TV, said some parts of the coverage would be taped and some broadcast live. The only part of the trial the network has committed to covering live is the testimony of the young woman who survived the attack, publicly identified as "H.G."

"That's obviously our top priority," she said. "The survivor's story is really miraculous. It's just an incredible story, and trials like this don't come along that often."

Was she surprised by the lack of major network coverage? "I am somewhat surprised, yes," Miss Jostad said.

The crimes are notable for their brutal and random nature. According to pre-trial testimony from H.G., two black men broke into a town house where five white professionals in their 20s were relaxing after a day of work. According to her account, the intruders forced the two women to perform sex acts on each other at gunpoint, then to have sex with their three male friends. The women were then raped by their captors. As the two men rummaged through the house for valuables, they found a diamond ring that one victim, Jason Befort, intended to give H.G. as an engagement ring.

"I was going to ask you to marry me," Mr. Befort told H.G., according to the account.

The gunmen then drove the five victims to an ATM machine, where they forced them to withdraw money, less than $1,000 in all. Then they drove to a soccer field and forced the friends to kneel in the snow, facing away from the car.

As the victims pleaded for their lives, the gunmen shot them each execution-style in the back of the head. The bullet for H.G. did not kill her, and she lay in the snow, playing dead, until the car pulled away. Police arrested the Carrs, and then later tied them to a separate killing. A few days earlier, a local cellist, 55-year-old Linda Ann Walenta, had been robbed and killed outside her Wichita home. The brothers were also charged with kidnapping another man and forcing him to withdraw money from an ATM.

The other victims in the soccer field massacre were Mr. Befort, 26, a high school science teacher and basketball coach; Brad Heyka, 27, a financial-services director; Heather Muller, 25, a Catholic school preschool teacher; and Aaron Sander, 29, a former banker who planned to study for the priesthood.

Both brothers are being tried at the same time. The trial is expected to last four to six weeks.




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