WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Gov. Sam Brownback assailed Democratic challenger Paul Davis Tuesday as a liberal who would appoint Kansas Supreme Court justices overly sympathetic to violent criminals, and Davis accused the Republican incumbent of trying to exploit a high-profile Wichita murder case to boost his re-election chances.
The confrontation during their fourth and final debate came on the same day Brownback's campaign released a television ad referencing brothers Reginald and Jonathan Carr, whose death sentences for a quadruple homicide were vacated by the state Supreme Court in July. The Carr brothers were convicted of killing four people at close range in December 2000 at a Wichita soccer field.
Brownback has long sought more power to directly appoint justices rather than use a longstanding merit system in which a committee comprised of lawyers and members of the public send up suggestions. The system was changed during his administration to give him more power over appointments to the Kansas Court of Appeals, but it takes a constitutional amendment to give him similar authority to appoint justices to the Kansas Supreme Court.
"It matters what judges you appoint and whether they stick with the law and constitution or they rewrite it, this is important it hasn't been discussed much in this campaign, but it critical on how you move forward in this state," Brownback said during the debate. "I will appoint judges that stay within the bounds of the law and the constitution."
Davis told reporters after the debate that he believes the governor doesn't need more control over the selection of judges.
"Gov. Brownback has a long record of trying to get more and more and more power," Davis said. "We have a system of selecting judges that has worked very well."
The attack that culminated in the December 2000 deaths of 29-year-old Aaron Sander, 27-year-old Brad Heyka, 26-year-old Jason Befort, and Heather Muller, began when the brothers broke into a Wichita home, prosecutors said. The armed intruders forced the five people there to have sex with each other and later to withdraw money from ATMs. Two women were raped repeatedly before all five were taken to the soccer field and shot. Four of the people died. One woman survived a gunshot wound to the head.
Davis said after the debate that he had known Heyka since high school, when the two competed in youth golfing events.
"When I decided to get into this race I knew that Gov. Brownback would run an ugly campaign of personal attacks, but I didn't think the ads could get any sleazier," Davis said." I turned on my television this morning and I saw an ad that is running linking me to the Carr brothers' murders. I knew one of the victims of the Carr brothers. Governor, you trying to exploit that terrible tragedy to help get re-elected is disgraceful."
Heyka's father, Larry Heyka, told The Associated Press he had not yet seen the ad and did not want to comment on it.
The Supreme Court vacated three of the Carr brothers' four capital murder convictions and said sentencing on the fourth one was flawed. The brothers remain in prison, and the state is appealing the court's decision.