By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled against two brothers challenging their death sentences for a 2000 Kansas crime spree known as the "Wichita Massacre" that included execution-style murders of one woman and three men on a snowy soccer field.
The 8-1 decision threw out a 2014 Kansas Supreme Court ruling that had invalidated Jonathan and Reginald Carr’s death sentences.
The Kansas Supreme Court had faulted the trial judge's jury instructions, saying in part that the brothers should have been sentenced in separate proceedings rather than together. The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday threw out that ruling.
The Carr brothers were sentenced to death after being convicted of the crimes committed in December 2000 in Wichita.
Their crimes included the kidnapping of three men and two women in a home invasion. The brothers raped the women, forced the men to have intercourse with the women and ordered the women to perform sex acts on each other.
The five victims were driven to ATM machines and told to withdraw money. Then they were lined up on a soccer field and shot in the head. One of those kidnapped, a woman named in court papers as Holly G., managed to survive because a bullet deflected off a hair-clip she was wearing. She testified against the brothers.
"What these defendants did - acts of almost inconceivable cruelty and depravity - was described in excruciating detail by Holly, who relived with the jury, for two days, the Wichita Massacre," conservative Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the ruling.
"The joint sentencing proceedings did not render the sentencing proceedings fundamentally unfair," he added.
Even with the ruling, the brothers' challenge to their death sentences is not yet over. The case will now return to the state Supreme Court, which will decide whether further proceedings are needed, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said.
"Justice was served today," Schmidt said in a statement.
Liberal Sonia Sotomayor, the sole dissenting justice, said the court had no reason to review the Kansas court's decision and should have left the ruling in place.
The court heard the Carr cases along with another appeal from Kansas that involved a man named Sidney Gleason convicted of a 2004 double murder that also raised the jury instruction issue. The court also ruled for the state in that case on Wednesday.
The cases did not directly address the constitutionality of the death penalty, and there was little sign of the tensions over capital punishment that flared when the justices ruled 5-4 in June that Oklahoma's lethal-injection procedure did not violate the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)