WICHITA, Kansas — A Sedgwick County judge has ruled that a special jury will determine if a Wichita man should receive a hard 50 prison sentence for killing his girlfriend.
District Judge William Woolley said a law passed in September by a special session of the Kansas Legislature can be applied to the case of Anson Bernhardt, who was convicted of first-degree murder in the Sept. 30, 2012, stomping death of 38-year-old Amber Kostner. Bernhardt told detectives that he kicked Kostner several times with steel-toed boots after the two argued.
"HB 2002 applies to this case, and the state may seek to impose the Hard 50 minimum term of imprisonment," Woolley said in his written ruling, The Wichita Eagle reported (http://bit.ly/1gYCoWu ).
Prosecutors originally wanted to ask Woolley to impose a hard 50 sentence because the crime was committed in an "especially heinous, atrocious or cruel manner." But those plans were blocked by a June U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said juries must make factual findings that increase the mandatory minimum sentence of a criminal defendant.
The high court's decision prompted Gov. Sam Brownback to call the special legislative session to rewrite the state's hard 50 law, which requires a defendant given a life term to serve 50 years of the sentence before being granted parole. The revised law, which was intended to apply retroactively to cases that are not yet final, calls for new juries to be empaneled to determine if Hard 50 sentences imposed by judges should stand.
During a hearing on Friday, Bernhardt's lawyer said despite the new law, the Hard 50 law as it existed when Bernhardt's crime was unconstitutional.
The case is on the jury trial docket for Dec. 16, but Woolley said he doubts the case would be tried before the end of the year.
Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com