Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Wichita Horror

Life or Death?

Now the question for the jury to decide was what punishment to fix for the heinous crimes.

A disturbing incident occurred in the city during the penalty phase. A Wichita resident hung the Carr brothers in effigy in his front yard. The spectacle of two dark-faced dummies hanging from trees with ropes around their necks outraged many who saw it as reminiscent of the notorious lynchings of black men. Rev. Gill Ford, NAACP regional director in Denver, Colorado, was informed of the display by the Wichita NAACP and said the noose is to blacks "like the swastika to somebody who's been in a concentration camp. My hope is that the community of Wichita as a whole would condemn those kinds of actions."

Michael Watley, a black carpet layer in Wichita, was disgusted by the display but hoped it did not represent a strong undercurrent of racism in his city. "I know there is some prejudice here," he explained, "but I didn't think it was to that level." He added that he has no sympathy for Jonathan and Reginald Carr. "They're individuals," he pointed out, "and it doesn't matter about skin color. What they did, they did on their own."

After many complaints, the resident took the effigies down. He claimed he was not thinking of the possible racial ramifications of the display but merely wanted to express his repugnance for the crimes of the Carrs.

During the penalty phase, attorneys for the Carrs put on witnesses to describe their formative years. They painted a picture of childhoods bereft of normal affection in an unstable and violent family.

Janice Harding, the mother of Jonathan and Reginald, said her sons grew up without warmth and intimacy. "I'm not a huggy, kissy person," she admitted. The family celebrated no holidays. It suffered a terrible trauma when a daughter, Regina, died of leukemia when she was only 3.

She said Jonathan and Reginald's father turned violent when they quarreled. "Their dad used to hit me," she claimed. She was also violent to him and once, "I picked up a bat up [sic] and beat him with it. I told him he wasn't going to hit me again."

When she and the boys' father divorced, he completely dropped out of his sons' lives. Her second marriage was also violent and her husband once put a gun to her head. Occasionally Jonathan and Reginald lived with their maternal grandmother but that environment was not much of an improvement. "She flips out," Harding commented. "One minute she's normal, the next she's yelling and screaming."

Harding said she sympathized with what her sons' victims' families were going through: "I feel for the other families. Everybody's hurting right now." Then she spoke directly to her sons in the defendants' dock. "I don't know what went wrong but I love you," she said. "I'm sorry if I did something wrong. I'm sorry."

Reginald and Jonathan's oldest sister testified to a childhood marred by sexual as well as physical abuse. She said her father sexually abused her and her mother's boyfriends sexually molested her brothers.

The sister described how emotional damage manifested itself. Reginald was a fighter in school. Jonathan attempted suicide by drinking antifreeze when he was sixteen.

She said Reginald told her that he shot all four victims in the soccer field. Under cross-examination, she admitted that, in the past, Reginald sometimes took blame to shield Jonathan.

Forensic psychologist Thomas Reidy testified that Reginald's experiences with sex, drugs, and violence began at age 6. He was still in the first years of elementary school when he was sexually abused and found pornographic photographs that featured his mother. Discipline in the Carr household was harsh. Their mother administered corporal punishment with electrical cords. When he was 11, Reginald was given liquor and drugs by older relatives. As Ron Sylvester reported in The Wichita Eagle, "Reidy found that Reginald Carr attended eight schools from kindergarten through eighth grade. By then, he had sexually harassed a teacher on one of the days he bothered showing up. He was absent 32 days that year.

"During his freshman year in high school at Dodge City, Reginald earned 21 detentions and suspensions. After beating up a student, he dropped out of ninth grade, Reidy testified, before the school could kick him out." He was in prison by 18.

Forensic psychologist Mark Cunningham described Jonathan Carr's upbringing as combining the "five Hs: hopeless, helpless, homeless, hungry, and hug-less." That childhood left him and his brother "so void of empathy and attachment that they could do this to other young people."

On cross-examination, prosecutor Parker repeatedly drew out Cunningham's admission that Jonathan Carr does understand the difference between right and wrong.

"There is no question," the psychologist said, "he has awareness of wrongful behavior."

"He doesn't care," Parker asserted.

"That's correct," Cunningham answered.

Dr. David Preston, a peer reviewer of the Journal of Nuclear Medicine, testified to a possible physical factor in the men's criminality. He said that both Reginald and Jonathan have brain damage to their temporal lobes, the part of the brain that involves risk evaluation and short-term memory.

The mothers of Reginald Carr's children took the stand. His estranged wife Mandy Carr said his relationship with his children is weak and told of the painful awkwardness of trying to explain the situation their father is in to them.

Richelle Kossman has a seven-year-old son by Reginald. While Reginald did not support the boy financially, he often visited and was a caring father to him. Kossman read a letter that her son wrote to his dad when Reginald was in jail: "I wish you would come back. I love you very, very much. I love when you play games with me . . . I'm a good boy like you tell me."

Usually expressionless, Reginald bowed his head as his son's letter was read to the courtroom.

One witness tried to show a positive side to Jonathan Carr. Juanita Culver said she and her husband had hired Jonathan to do carpentry work when he was a teenager. "I found him to be one of the nicest, polite, kind, warm, giving [sic]," she recalled, "he was the epitome of the finest young man." Her grammar was understandably confused, given the stress of testifying at a trial when a man's life is at stake.

Speaking for the other side were two witnesses whose emotional power would be hard to overestimate: Andrew Schreiber and H.G., who were allowed to make statements to the jury.

Andrew Schreiber said, "there are constant reminders every day" since "I still live in Wichita." He is also troubled by an irrational but painfully real sense of "survivor's guilt" since he lived and so many others did not.

H.G.'s made her statement with a heartfelt eloquence. "I speak on behalf of Brad, Aaron, Heather, Ann, Andy, Jason and myself," she began.

"One of my favorite 7-year-olds lost her uncle on the 15th. This year, when her mom asked her what she wanted for Christmas, she replied that she had wings, and if they were real, that she could fly to heaven and she could see her Uncle Jason and her papa.

"I wish life were that simple. I wish that I could put on a pair of wings and that I could go see Jason - But we all know that these are wishes, and they are wishes that we have to wish because of two soulless monsters."

Her life has been forever damaged. "Every day there is a memory or a scar that reminds me of that night," she testified, "I wake up in sweats from my nightmares. I pace at night because of noises that I think are somebody breaking into my house. And every morning I carefully blow-dry my hair to cover up the spot that can no longer grow hair. I look at my knees and see the scars from the carpet burns that I got from the rape and in the back of [my] mind I wonder will it happen again."

In summing up for Jonathan, Ron Evans reminded the jury that his client had no serious criminal record prior to these offenses. He also noted that the background of both defendants was lamentable. "This was a very dysfunctional family," he states. "They fought, they drank, they drugged in front of the kids."

Closing for Reginald, Jay Greeno said, "I ask you to extend mercy to Reginald Carr that he did not extend to those four individuals."

Nola Foulston urged the jury not to be guided by sympathy for the brothers due to their backgrounds. "There is no excuse for an individual's conduct," she stated. "You can't blame your family for what went wrong in your life."

The jurors deliberated for seven hours, then recommended the death penalty.

As the defendants were being led from the courtroom, Jason Befort's brother Mark said a sarcastic "Happy Birthday" followed by a swear word to Reginald Carr, who had just turned twenty-five. Reginald swore back.

Prior to formal sentencing, Judge Clark informed the defendants of their right to "allocution," meaning they could ask for mercy or apologize. They refused it on the advice of their attorneys. Then the judge formally sentenced them to be executed.



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