On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 against three convicted murderers, including two brothers, whose death sentences had been vacated by the Kansas Supreme Court. The decision—which ultimately revolved around sentencing procedures, the New York Times reports, and will likely not have very much impact on the court’s death penalty jurisprudence—returned the case to the state Supreme Court. The sentences may be vacated again.
The case involved three inmates facing the death penalty in two separate cases: the brothers Jonathan and Reginald Carr, and Sidney Gleason. The state Supreme Court vacated their sentences, the Kansas City Star reports, on the grounds that the brothers should have been sentenced separately, and that the jury instructions for all three had been unclear.
Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion, overturning the Kansas Supreme Court’s decision. He was joined by Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, without comment. Breyer and Ginsburg have hinted that they believe the death penalty may be unconstitutional.
In 2000, the Carr brothers, who are black, were found guilty in the deaths of four white people, in what is known as the Wichita Massacre. Scalia details the massacre, which has come to be the subject of a right-wing conspiracy about a media cover-up—despite (or perhaps because) the Sedgwick County district attorney’s insistence that there was no evidence race was the motive—in detail:
In December 2000, brothers Reginald and Jonathan Carr set out on a crime spree culminating in the Wichita Massacre. On the night of December 7, Reginald Carr and an unknown man carjacked Andrew Schreiber, held a gun to his head, and forced him to make cash withdrawals at various ATMs. On the night of December 11, the brothers followed Linda Ann Walenta, a cellist for the Wichita symphony, home from orchestra practice. One of them approached her vehicle and said he needed help. When she rolled down her window, he pointed a gun at her head. When she shifted into reverse to escape, he shot her three times, ran back to his brother’s car, and fled the scene. One of the gunshots severed Walenta’s spine, and she died one month later as a result of her injuries.
On the night of December 14, the brothers burst into a triplex at 12727 Birchwood, where roommates Jason, Brad, and Aaron lived. Jason’s girlfriend, Holly, and Heather, a friend of Aaron’s, were also in the house. Armed with handguns and a golf club, the brothers forced all five into Jason’s bedroom. They demanded that they strip naked and later ordered them into the bedroom closet. They took Holly and Heather from the bedroom, demanded that they perform oral sex and digitally pene- trate each other as the Carrs looked on and barked orders. They forced each of the men to have sex with Holly and then with Heather. They yelled that the men would be shot if they could not have sex with the women, so Holly— fearing for Jason’s life—performed oral sex on him in the closet before he was ordered out by the brothers.
Jonathan then snatched Holly from the closet. He ordered that she digitally penetrate herself. He set his gun between her knees on the floor. And he raped her. Then he raped Heather.
He goes on for another two-and-a-half pages.
In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued that the Supreme Court should not have even heard the case: “I see no reason to intervene in cases like these—and plenty of reasons not to. Kansas has not violated any federal constitutional right. If anything, the State has overprotected its citizens based on its interpretation of state and federal law.”
“The Carr brothers committed acts of ‘almost inconceivable cruelty and depravity,’” Sotomayor wrote, quoting Scalia, “and the majority is understandably anxious to ensure they receive their just deserts.”
However, she added, “The standard adage teaches that hard cases make bad law...I fear that these cases suggest a corollary: Shocking cases make too much law.”