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Family Members of Carr Brothers Victims Want to Oust Kansas Supreme Court Justices

Vinny DiGiovanni and Amy Scott James speak to reporters outside the Kansas Judicial Center, which houses the Supreme Court. (Photo by Stephen Koranda)

A group of family members and friends of those killed in a notorious multiple murder are kicking off a campaign to unseat four Kansas Supreme Court justices. The justices face a retention election on the ballot this fall.

Amy Scott James was the girlfriend of Brad Heyka, one of the victims of the Carr brothers. She says the Kansas Supreme Court didn’t follow the state’s death penalty law when the justices overturned the death sentences for Jonathan and Reginald Carr. James says that was proven when the U.S. Supreme Court later overturned the Kansas court’s decision.

“If I don’t do my job I get fired. If they don’t do their job they just go back to their offices and keep getting paid. It’s time for someone to stand up and say something,” says James.

The Carr brothers were convicted of murdering five people in 2000 during a Wichita crime spree.

The Kansas Supreme Court overturned the death sentences and some of the murder convictions in 2014 because the justices said there were problems during the trial and sentencing.

Vinny DiGiovanni, the brother-in-law of Brad Heyka, says he was awestruck and angry when the Kansas justices made that ruling.

“The majority of Kansans decided that the death penalty is law in the state, and it should not be up to the Kansas Supreme Court justices to revoke that law,” says DiGiovanni.

DiGiovanni and James are members of the group Kansans for Justice, which is pushing to remove the Supreme Court justices.

Joyce Morrison, with the group Kansans for Fair Courts, says the justices should keep their jobs. She says the Kansas Supreme Court’s decision didn’t let the Carr brothers out of prison, and they’ll stay there until they’re executed or die behind bars.

Morrison calls the crimes in the case horrific, but says the state needs a stable court.

“This process is difficult and it’s time consuming, but it’s careful. That’s the kind of system that we want to keep in Kansas,” says Morrison. “We need our justices to remain fair and impartial and be able to do their job without the political winds trying to shift their opinions.”

A Kansas Supreme Court justice has never lost a retention election since the current system was put in place around 60 years ago.

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