Killing Spree Fuels Debate in Wichita over Hate Crimes

Article excerpt

A horrific weeklong crime spree that ended with five persons dead in Wichita, Kan., has exposed a raw nerve over the selectivity of prosecuting hate crimes.

Two brothers, Reginald D. Carr Jr., 23, and Jonathan D. Carr, 20, were charged last month with multiple counts of capital murder, kidnapping, sexual assault and robbery of eight victims between Dec. 7 and Dec. 15.

Because the Carrs are black and their victims were white, some Wichitans also expected the brothers to be charged with hate crimes.

When prosecutors refused to do so, the result was a local outcry that soon became a national cause celebre as the news spread from the pages of the Wichita Eagle to the Internet. The case, known as the "Wichita Slaughter" on some Web sites, has magnified a deep-seated belief among some that when it comes to crime, white victims are seen as less deserving than those who belong to a racial minority.

"It's just a fact that this whole crime spree was perpetrated against members of a certain race by perpetrators of a different race," said Del Riley, a Wichita billing clerk who has written letters about the situation to his senators, congressman and the president.

"Hate crimes work both ways. When the district attorney and the media suggest that they don't, it tends to create racial animosity," he said. "If the shoe were on the other foot, it would create a national uproar."

Critics say the case's gruesome nature places it in the same category as that of the murders of Matthew Shepherd, who was beaten to death because he was homosexual, and James Byrd, the black Texas man who was dragged to death by whites.

The Carr brothers are accused of robbing and shooting a local symphony cellist, Linda Walenta, 55, outside her home Dec. 11. She died Jan. 2.

Three days later, police say, the Carrs broke into a home, abducted five friends - three men and two women - and forced them to withdraw money from a local automated teller machine. The Carrs are also accused of raping and sodomizing the female victims and forcing the male victims to perform sex acts with the women.

Ultimately, the five victims were taken to a deserted soccer field, ordered to kneel and shot execution-style in the head. Miraculously, one of the female victims lived and walked naked and bleeding across the field in subfreezing temperatures to seek help.

The name of the surviving woman was not released, but the other four victims were Jason Befort, 26, a high-school science teacher; Brad Heyka, 27, a finance director; Heather Muller, 25, a preschool teacher, and Aaron Sander, 29, who was planning to become a priest. The survivor and Mr. Befort were engaged to be married, according to sources quoted in the Wichita Eagle.

District Attorney Nola Tedesco Foulston, responding to a rash of complaints, held a news conference to explain that she was unable to charge the Carrs with hate crimes because Kansas has no hate-crimes law. …