A Sedgwick County jury acquitted Kyler Carriker on the charge of felony murder, yesterday, after prosecutors Trinity Muth and Jennifer Amyx presented their case.
At the crux of Muth and Amyx’ argument was that the jury was required, by law, to deliver a guilty verdict for felony murder, if the state proved that Carriker arranged the drug deal that ultimately ended in Ronald Betts’ death.
However, the jury determined that Carriker could be guilty of arranging that deal, and still be innocent of felony murder. Defense attorney Sarah Swain argued that the drug deal did not cause Betts’ death, but that instead, a robbery, committed by Dennis Haynes, John Carter, and Lorenzo Spires, was the inherently dangerous felony that killed Betts.
In what is being lauded as a brilliant move, Swain did not present a case in Carriker’s defense. Swain used her cross-examination of the state’s witnesses, and her closing argument to convince the jury that, despite what the prosecution, and even what the judge had told them, that they, the jurors, were the finders of fact in this case, and that they had the right to decide whether the drug deal, or the robbery caused Betts’ death.
After delivering their verdict, members of the jury informed Carriker and his family that they felt that the “law is wrong”.
That same jury did convict Carriker on the much lesser charge of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance for arranging the drug deal, but refused to accept the prosecution’s stance, and the judge’s direct order, which required them to also find Carriker guilty of felony murder.
The felony murder rule states that if a defendant is found to be in the commission of an inherently dangerous felony that results in the death of an individual, that the defendant is just as responsible for murder as the person who pulls the trigger, but Swain, and the defendant’s mother, Jennifer Winn, along with the jury in this case, disagreed.
Swain told reporters that she felt that justice had been served, and that her client was being held to account for his actions, and only his actions.
Jennifer Winn, who ran against Kansas Governor Sam Brownback in the 2014 gubernatorial election, says that no one should be punished for the actions of another person.
As the verdict was read, over a dozen uniformed sheriff deputies and one uniformed Wichita police officer stood at the ready in the courtroom, strategically placed all around the inside perimeter of the room. The day before the jury reached its verdict, a man known to police for walking about town in a mask, carrying an assault rifle, posted a threat on Facebook.
That man, Sam McCrory, made comments about storming the courthouse with guns, and killing police officers, in the event that Carriker was found guilty. McCrory was not affiliated with Carriker’s family, nor was he affiliated with the protests that took place throughout the duration of the trial.
McCrory showed up to one of those demonstrations this past Monday, openly carrying a firearm on his hip, and was told by multiple protesters and members of Kyler’s family that he would not be welcome if he insisted on wearing the firearm. Eventually, McCrory was convinced to conceal the firearm, but his presence still made many protesters uncomfortable.
McCrory has a history of showing up, uninvited, to protests, carrying weapons, which does not align with the peaceful nature of those protests. Carriker’s family and his supporters applauded McCrory’s arrest, which took place prior to the verdict being read.
In a press conference, Sheriff Jeff Easter mistakenly told reporters that Carriker’s jury had not been exposed to the massive influx of security at the courthouse. Earlier that day, while the jury was in the courtroom after requesting to have witness testimony read back to them, four uniformed sheriff deputies stood guard in the courtroom. Two of those deputies fell asleep multiple times during that one hour period.
Carriker now awaits sentencing on the charge of possession with intent to sell a controlled substance, but the sentencing guidelines for that crime are significantly lower than the 20 year mandatory minimum sentence he faced on the charge of felony murder.
Jury nullification occurs when a jury decides that despite a defendant being guilty of a crime, in accordance with the law, that the law itself is unjust. Nullification was one of the driving forces behind the end of alcohol prohibition, but jurors are no longer instructed that they have the right to nullify the law.
The judge in Carriker’s case did not permit defense attorney Swain to inform the jury of these rights, but protesters carried signs and wrote messages about jury nullification on their own vehicles, which were parked in front of the courthouse during the trial.