Wichita, KS (TFC) – A Sedgwick County Jury acquitted Kyler Carriker of Felony Murder. The Trial showed what can happen when attorneys, activists, and journalists come together in a fight for justice.
Ten days ago I told you about Kyler Carriker and the pending felony murder trial he was facing. The State of Kansas was trying to prove that Kyler was responsible for the death of a man he did not know, killed by a man he also did not know, because he introduced two other men to each other to execute a marijuana deal. Kyler was being duped and set up by gang members, unknowingly the entire time.
Another factor in the trial was a retroactive application of the law. After the robbery/murder of Ronald Betts, the victim in Kyler’s case, the State of Kansas amended the inherently dangerous crime law to include marijuana sales “middlemen.” Marijuana deals were already legislated as inherently dangerous. The Sedgwick County District Attorney’s office decided to charge Kyler with Felony Murder based on this new law.
Last, and perhaps most importantly, marijuana prohibition and the decades-old failed drug war shared the stage in this murder trial. Activists and Human Rights Organizations mobilized to Wichita, unified and organized, protesting all day, every day, and pounding social media with videos, personal accounts, and news reports. They remained until the verdict came in.
When the trial commenced, Judge Terry Pullman granted a Prosecution motion to exclude any person who sat in the courtroom wearing shirts that supported Kyler Carriker. Attorney Sarah Swain argued against the motion vigorously on public trial and first amendment grounds, although unsuccessfully. Hindered by the fact that she was the advocate for Kyler and did not represent those persons in the audience, there was not much to be done. The local chapter of the A.C.L.U. and local media were contacted and jury selection began. It was at this point I observed how many special people had joined this fight.
Judge Pullman not only banned “Kyler clothing” from the courtroom, he also banned it from the first and sixth floors of the courthouse, as well as the parking garage.The response of Kyler’s legal team, family and activists was inspiring.
In order to ensure no problems with the Judge throughout the trial, Kyler’s family and the activists worked as a team. While not violating any of the conditions the Judge set forth, the activists protested vigorously outside the courthouse every day. Also, Kyler’s family and friends and supporters, including traveling activists, sat in the courtroom during the entire length of the trial. Kyler’s stepfather, Darren Winn, acted as the designated defense team bailiff. He ensured no one tried to wear any banned clothing, and continued to remind everyone to behave professionally and responsibly. Meanwhile, the Jury got to see the same people every day throughout the trial.
The Human Solution International is a human rights organization based in Los Angeles. Attorney Matthew Pappas is a member of THSI. I recently interviewed Matthew, and I learned that this man was not only about defending his clients vigorously, he was also dedicated to ending the prohibition against Marijuana and ending the drug war. The morning of the trial, Matthew wrote a letter to Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett, requesting dismissal of the felony murder charge against Kyler Carriker. Meanwhile, co-founder of THSI Joe Grumbine had arrived in Wichita to support Kyler and protest the prosecution. Joe, an experienced organizer, immediately jumped and made sure that all the protests were visible and peaceful. Speaking with Joe the second day of trial, he told me how the vehicles driven by activists that had handicap stickers were parked and “dressed” right in front of the courthouse the entire week. Joe also joined the other supporters inside the courtroom each day.
Jennifer Winn, Kyler’s mother, while under extreme emotional duress, decided to work in any way she could to stop what was happening to her son, and, to ensure that marijuana prohibition ended in Kansas. She ran for Governor on the GOP ticket, gaining 37% of the vote in the primary. People would criticize her, saying she was only doing this because of her son. Jennifer, while naturally reacting to the prosecution, was never deceiving the public about her conviction to make changes.
Jennifer started posting video updates on her Facebook Page, “Jennifer Winn for Kansas,” as often as she was able. The videos contained an outline of that day’s events inside the courtroom, interactions with protestors, and the personal convictions of a mother and a citizen who believes the elected officials are not representing the people who elected them. Jennifer also appeared on various radio shows, including my own show twice, tirelessly fighting.
Kisty Jacoby Watson and I have spoken and exchanged emails many times in the past few months. I have learned she is passionate about justice. I have learned she wants to help fight injustice. What impresses me about Kisty is her insight of the law and her ability to get things done. Kisty went to work for Sarah Swain and was part of Kyler’s legal team. Kisty continuously reached out to news media to make them aware of this trial and the issues happening during it. Kisty was interviewed last week on one the local stations.
Shona Banda, the medical marijuana patient and anti-prohibition activist who is fighting the state of Kansas against felony charges, also spent time at the trial supporting Kyler, participating in the protests and watching Sarah Swain. Not only is Shona facing 30 years in prison, but the State of Kansas took her child away from her simply because she medicates herself with marijuana to fight Crohn’s disease. She certainly doesn’t sell it.
Kansas Exposed is a citizen funded news site with the goal of providing unbiased coverage on issues affecting the people of Wichita and Kansas. Kansas Exposed is the brainchild of Mike Shatz. Mike, who was also Jennifer Winn’s campaign manager during her campaign for Governor, was present as a journalist for the entire trial. While the City of Wichita recognizes Mike as a member of the media, Judge Pullman refused to acknowledge him. Mike was unable to film or have a laptop in the courtroom. During voir dire, the Prosecuting Attorney asked the jury if any of them knew Mike. I chuckled to myself when Mike told me this. That clearly showed Mike is making an impact in Wichita.
Mike wrote a series of articles during the trial keeping everyone connected and aware both inside and outside the courtroom. It certainly helped me understand how the Prosecution was painting its picture and how Kyler’s attorney was throwing paint thinner all over that painting.
Meko Haze also spread the word about the trial, the protest and the daily events. Using his website The Daily Haze, “the world’s largest counter culture community”, Meko helped keep the light bright on the important issues this case presented.
Last and far from least, Attorney Sarah Swain. Getting to know Sarah over these past few months has reignited the fire I have inside myself. I tell people that if I was Doctor Frankenstein and I was creating a criminal defense attorney, she would be the “monster” sitting up. There are many reasons why I have gained respect for her. None more than how she has described what being a lawyer is all about and how, if anyone chooses to become an attorney, you are duty bound to defend your all clients to the best of your ability 100% of the time and if you do not you should go find another line of work.
An attorney must remember that every single time literally a person’s life and liberty is at stake as well as how that impacts a person’s family.
In Kyler’s trial, the jury found out just what that means. Sarah focused her efforts on pointing out the deficiencies of the State’s arguments through cross-examination. Only one witness took the stand that was actually present during the murder. Lorenzo Spires was the one who had duped Kyler into arranging this marijuana sale to commit the robbery and murder. She highlighted to the jury that there never truly was any drug deal, the entire motive here was the robbery, and that Kyler never knew that motive or that Spires was a member of a gang. In a morning conversation, Sarah shared with me that she was pretty sure she was going to “rest the defense” without putting on any evidence. That is exactly what she did. She did it without confiding in her client, and I am told the reaction in the courtroom was one of shock. Certainly the assistant district attorney was not expecting that and a rapid move to closing arguments.
It took approximately eight hours over two days for the jury to acquit Kyler of the felony murder charge. As Mike Shatz discussed,
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.
Kyler was convicted of intent to distribute marijuana. He went home that day, and the joy and celebration of a community was heard across the country.
What is important to note here is that immediately following the verdict, in the midst of joy, Jennifer Winn let the world know this was just the beginning of the fight.
“All those people who said I was only doing this because of my son’s charges will now know that is not true.”
Joe Grumbine has returned to California. His radio show “A Cup of Joe” had a special broadcast with many of these “stars” stopping by. Everyone knows the fight against to end marijuana prohibition and to end the war on drugs has so much farther to go and everyone committed to it. The work being done by Joe and The Human Solution International is supreme.
Pay attention. When attorneys, activists, and journalists come together the light is very bright and fight is very hard.