Wichita The families of four people murdered by brothers Reginald and Jonathan Carr can continue their negligence lawsuit against the state of Kansas, a Sedgwick County judge ruled.
District Judge Paul Clark said Thursday in a written ruling the negligence occurred when a parole officer mistakenly authorized Reginald Carr's early release from custody. The killings, for which the brothers were sentenced to death, occurred just days after the release in December 2000.
"Had it not been for the negligence of defendant, neither plaintiffs nor their decedents would have suffered injury at the hands of the releasee," he said.
During a February hearing, lawyers for the state asked District Judge Paul Clark to dismiss the case under a law designed to protect government workers from lawsuits.
Assistant Atty. Gen. Scott Hesse argued at the hearing that if the mistaken release had not occurred, Carr would have been living in a halfway house on the day of the crimes and not inside a state prison.
Lawyers for the state and the relatives differed over whether the mistaken release was a "proximate cause" of the deaths. They also argued whether there was a "special relationship" between the state and Reginald Carr when the mistake occurred.
Courts have said that individuals cannot sue the state unless such a relationship exists.
Clark found in favor of the relatives on both issues.
"The negligence of defendant was the only reason that the releasee was at the same place plaintiffs' decedents were when injuries were inflicted on them by the releasee," he said.
The parents of Aaron Sander, Jason Befort and Brad Heyka filed the lawsuit in Sedgwick County District Court, where it was combined with a lawsuit filed by the husband of Wichita Symphony Orchestra cellist Ann Walenta. The family of a fifth victim, Heather Muller, decided not to pursue the lawsuit.
Wichita lawyer Jack Focht said he expected the ruling to be upheld by the Kansas Supreme Court.
Andy Hutton, who represents Don Walenta, said he expected prison officials in Topeka to note the decision.