Prosecutors Downplay Racial Element in Kansas Murder Trial

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:20 PM EDT

(Editorial note: Readers may find some material in this article objectionable.)

( - Prosecutors in Wichita, Kan. are seeking the death penalty for two African-American brothers accused of murdering five white people and wounding a sixth in a shooting spree that has become known locally as the "Wichita Massacre" and the "Wichita Horror."

Some residents in the area claim the murders would have been prosecuted as hate crimes had the skin color of the alleged gunmen and their victims been reversed. However, Sedgwick County, Kansas District Attorney Nola Foulston reportedly said she would not charge the suspects with committing hate crimes because she believes the murders were motivated by robbery and not racial hatred.

Foulston noted that the state of Kansas does not have a hate crime statute. She refused interview requests from for more comment on the story.

A spokesman for Foulston said the district attorney is under a gag order not to talk about the case until it's over. Attorneys Val Wachtel and Jay Greeno representing the defendants, Jonathan and Reginald Carr, confirmed they were also under a gag order.

A spokesperson for Sedgwick County District Judge Paul Clark, who is the presiding judge in the case, told that the gag order was imposed during the jury selection and other pre-trial activity and was not in effect now.

Meanwhile, trial testimony continued Thursday.

The Carr brothers have been charged with 113 counts of murder, robbery, rape and other crimes. The two are accused of unleashing a crime spree that began Dec. 7, 2000 when they allegedly kidnapped a 23-year old man from a Wichita convenience store and robbed him.

Several days later, according to prosecutors, the Carrs shot a female outside her Wichita home. She died several days later from her injuries.

On Dec.14, the Carrs allegedly broke into the home of three young men who were hosting two female guests. Later that night, prosecutors said the Carrs drove the five people to a deserted soccer field, forced them to kneel in the snow and shot each of them in the back of the head.

Prosecutors said the brothers then drove a truck over the four dead bodies.

The surviving female, whose name is not being released, testified Wednesday that she ran naked for over a mile in freezing temperatures to the nearest house to get help. She also testified that a plastic hair clip deflected the bullet and prevented it from entering her skull.

She identified both Jonathan and Reginald Carr as the armed intruders who attacked her.

Her four friends who died were identified as Jason Befort, a local high school teacher; Brad Heyka, a director of finance with a local financial services company; Heather Muller, a local preschool teacher; and Aaron Sandler, a former financial analyst who had been studying to become a priest.

The trial is expected to last four to six weeks. It has sparked debate within the Wichita citizenry.

"If this had been two white males accused of killing four black individuals, the media would be on a feeding frenzy and every satellite news organization would be in Wichita doing live reports," said Trent Hungate of Wichita in a recent letter to the Wichita Eagle newspaper.

The Wichita Eagle itself, in its Thursday editorial, wrote "reliving horrible crime is hard for the community."

"The defendants are being fairly treated by the court and aggressively defended by their lawyers. We must presume their innocence until they are proved guilty. They are getting their day in court. So are the victims," the paper stated.

"The randomness of the attacks was especially chilling. It could have been anyone. But we go on with our work, hold our loved ones a little closer, and face down our fears as best we can. The survivors are showing us how," the editorial concluded.

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