The Wichita Massacre, also known as the Wichita Horror, was a spree of random robberies, assaults, rapes, and murders perpetrated from December 7 to 14, 2000 by brothers Reginald and Jonathan Carr against several people in the city of Wichita, Kansas. In this period, the Carrs killed five people and a dog in the course of robberies and assaults, robbed another man, and severely wounded a woman. The crimes shocked Wichitans, and they quickly purchased new guns, locks, and home security systems, causing a boom in that business in the city. The brothers were tried and convicted on multiple counts, including for kidnapping, robbery, rape, four counts of capital murder, and one count of first-degree murder. They were sentenced to death in October 2002, and also sentenced to life in prison.
The case has continued to receive attention because the convicted killers' sentences have been subject to various rulings related to the state's death penalty law. In 2004, the Kansas Supreme Court overturned the state's death penalty law, but the Kansas attorney general appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. It upheld the constitutionality of the state's death penalty law; this meant that the Carrs and other condemned killers were returned to death row. Defense attorneys continued appeals.
On July 25, 2014, the Kansas Supreme Court overturned the death sentences against the Carrs because of trial judge error in the penalty proceedings. A penalty trial is required for each of the brothers. Before this occurred, the state attorney general appealed its high court's decision to the US Supreme Court, which agreed in March 2015 to hear the case. That will happen in the fall of 2015.
The brutal nature of the Carrs' murders and assaults overshadowed four murders committed a week earlier in Wichita, but the latter had been the worst violent crime in 27 years in the city. Nineteen-year-old Cornelius Olivier killed his girlfriend, 18-year-old Raeshawnda Wheaton, her roommate and two visiting friends at her house on December 7, 2000. Oliver is serving a life sentence for the murders. The community commemorated the four friends in 2010 on the tenth anniversary of their deaths.
The Carr brothers, 22-year-old Reginald and 20-year-old Jonathan, already had lengthy criminal records when they began their spree based on robbery. On December 8, 2000, having recently arrived in Wichita, they committed armed robbery against Andrew Schreiber, a 23-year-old assistant baseball coach. On December 11, three days later, they shot and mortally wounded 55-year-old cellist and librarian, Ann Walenta, as she tried to escape from them in her car; she died three days after the shooting.
Their crime spree culminated on December 14, when the Carrs invaded a home and subjected five young men and women to robbery, sexual abuse, and murder. The brothers broke into a house chosen nearly at random where Brad Heyka, Heather Muller, Aaron Sander, Jason Befort and his girlfriend, a young woman identified as 'H.G.', all in their twenties, were spending the night. They were all working adults: Befort was a local high school teacher; Heyka, a director of finance with a local financial services company; Muller, a local preschool teacher; and Sandler, a former financial analyst who had been studying to become a priest. H.G. is a teacher.
The Carrs initially scoured the house for valuables. H.G. learned of Befort's intent to propose marriage to her when the Carrs discovered the engagement ring he had hidden in a can of popcorn. After the search, the Carrs forced their hostages to strip naked, bound and detained them, and subjected them to various forms of sexual abuse, including rape and oral sex. The brothers forced the men to engage in sexual acts with the women, and the women with each other. They drove the victims to ATMs to empty their bank accounts, before taking them to a snowy deserted soccer complex on the outskirts of town. There they shot the five execution-style in the backs of their heads. The Carr brothers drove Befort's truck over the bodies and left them for dead.
H.G. survived her head wound at the soccer field because her plastic barrette deflected the bullet. After the killers left, she walked naked for more than a mile in freezing weather to seek first aid and shelter at a house. Before getting medical treatment, she reported the incident and descriptions of her attackers to the couple who took her in, even before the police arrived.
The Carrs had returned to the friends' house to ransack it for more valuables, and while there killed H.G.'s dog Nikki, which was muzzled. The next day the police captured the Carr brothers. Reginald was identified by both Schreiber and the dying Walenta. The District Attorney said that, based on evidence in the case, the Carrs' motive was robbery.
With the help of HG's testimony at the trial, the Carr brothers were convicted of nearly all 113 counts against them, including kidnapping, robbery, rape, four counts of capital murder, and one count of first-degree murder. Reginald Carr was convicted of 50 counts and Jonathan Carr of 43. They were each sentenced to death for the capital murders, as well as to life in prison, with decades to serve before being eligible for parole. Their cases were appealed.
There has been continuing attention for the Carr brothers' case because of various rulings about the Kansas death penalty law and decisions by its high court on such cases. In 2004 the Kansas Supreme Court overturned the state's death penalty law, but the state attorney general appealed this ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. It upheld the constitutionality of the state's death penalty law, which returned the Carrs and other condemned killers to death row.
On July 25, 2014, the Kansas Supreme Court announced it had overturned the Carr death sentences on appeal. The six justice-majority said they did so because the trial judge failed to adequately separate the penalty proceedings for each defendant. According to a release from the Kansas Supreme Court public information officer, the court unanimously reversed three of each defendant’s four capital convictions because jury instructions on sex-crime-based capital murder were "fatally erroneous and three of the multiple-homicide capital murder charges duplicated the first."
The high court upheld most of the convictions against each of the brothers despite other lower-court errors. The court ruled that the brothers were entitled to separate sentencing trials, as “differentiation in the moral culpability of two defendants” can cause a jury “to show mercy to one while refusing to show mercy to the other.” Even if the death penalties are not upheld, each of the Carrs is already sentenced to serve at least "70 to 80 years" in prison before being eligible for parole.
The Kansas Attorney General appealed the high court's ruling to the US Supreme Court, which in March 2015 agreed to hear the Carr brothers' sentencing case, together with another death-penalty case from the state. That hearing will take place in the fall of 2015.
Criticism of crime coverage in Wichita
The victims were white and the Carr brothers are black, but the District Attorney held that there was no prima facie evidence of a racial crime. Based on the robberies, Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston decided against treating these incidents as hate crimes. Conservative media commentators David Horowitz, Michelle Malkin, and Thomas Sowell said the crimes were downplayed; they felt the national media suppressed the stories due to political correctness. Sowell claimed that the media has a double standard regarding interracial offenses, tending to play up "vicious crimes by whites against blacks" but play down "equally vicious crimes by blacks against whites".
Years later The Wichita Eagle commented that the deaths of four young black people who were murdered by a young black man eight days before the "Wichita Massacre" in 2000 received less general media coverage than the Carr brothers' murders. In the first case, the city's worst killing in 27 years, Cornelius Oliver, 19, killed his girlfriend Raeshawnda Wheaton, 18, at her house, as well as her roommate Dessa Ford, and friends Jermaine Levy and Quincy Williams, who were visiting the women. Oliver shot the men in the back of the head where they sat on a couch. The couple had been known to have a "volatile, violent relationship." The police arrested Oliver that day; he still had blood on his shoes.
Some members of the black community questioned why the murders of the four young blacks was superseded by attention given to the Carr brothers' killing of four young white people. A relative of Wheaton asked, "How could one be any worse than the other, if the results [multiple deaths] were the same?" But the deaths of Wheaton and her friends were characterized by Oliver having had a personal relationship with at least one of his victims, unlike the Carrs who chose their victims at random. In addition, the Carrs committed other assaults and abuse of the victims. Oliver was convicted of the four murders and is serving a life sentence in prison, with no possibility of parole before 2140.
- Muller was a pre-school teacher at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School. The school established an annual award, the Heather Muller Love of Faith Award, given to a deserving 8th grade student in her memory.
- Candice Reed, a cousin of Ford and Williams, led fundraising to place markers on their graves, which took place in the fall of 2010. A candlelight vigil was held on the 10th anniversary of the murders to celebrate the lives of the four who were killed.
- Burns, Jim (July 7, 2008). "Prosecutors Downplay Racial Element in Kansas Murder Trial". Cybercast News Service. Retrieved June 19, 2015.
- The Wichita Horror, The Brutal Murders by Jonathan and Reginald Carr: The Heartbreak of a City by Denise Noe, Court TV's Crime Library
- Hegeman, Roxana (November 5, 2002). "Carr brothers found guilty". The Topeka Capital-Journal. Associated Press. Retrieved June 19, 2015.
- Smith, Sherman (July 25, 2014). "High court overturns death penalty sentences for Carr brothers, upholds conviction". The Topeka Capital-Journal. Retrieved June 19, 2015.
- "Carr brothers’ death sentences to be reviewed by U.S. Supreme Court", Wichita Eagle, 30 March 2015, accessed 27 June 2015
- Ron Sylvester, "Victims in 2000 quadruple homicide aren't forgotten", The Wichita Eagle, 7 December 2010, accessed 26 June 2015
- "AIM Report: The Wichita Massacre". Accuracy in Media. October 16, 2002. Retrieved June 19, 2015.
- Black Racism: The Hate Crime That Dare Not Speak Its Name by David Horowitz, FrontPage Magazine, 16 July 2002
- Michelle Malkin, "Winona and the Wichita massacre", Townhall.com, 8 November 2002
- "8th Grade Awards". St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
- Extensive account of the crimes by Court TV's Crime Library
- 'Wichita Massacre' Brothers Sentenced to Death
- Kansas v. Marsh decision by United States Supreme Court
- KAKE-TV news story on Wichita Horror survivors engagement to be married
- "Was this Kansas killing spree a brotherly affair?", CNN and CourtTV
- Kansas v. Jonathan Carr, Kansas Supreme Court]