'Hard 50' sentencing is delayed
WICHITA (AP) — Sentencing for a Wichita man convicted of stomping his girlfriend to death has been delayed so lawyers and the judge can determine if the state's "Hard 50" sentence can be used in the case.
Prosecutors are seeking the "Hard 50" sentence, which is a sentence of at least 50 years without parole, for 42-year-old Anson Bernhardt, who was convicted in July of first-degree murder in the death last year of 38-year-old Amber Kostner.
Lawyers want to determine how the case is affected by a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that raised questions about the constitutionality of the Hard 50.
The ruling said juries, not judges, must make factual findings that increase the mandatory minimum sentence of a criminal defendant, The Wichita Eagle reported.
The Hard 50 law in Kansas says a judge must weigh aggravating and mitigating factors before deciding whether to grant a prosecutor's request to impose the sentence.
The Supreme Court ruling prompted the Kansas Attorney General's Office to drop plans to seek the Hard 50 sentence last month against former Sedgwick County sheriff''s Deputy Brett Seacat for the murder of his wife.
It also prompted Gov. Sam Brownback to call a special session of the Kansas Legislature in September to rewrite the Hard 50 law.
Sedgwick County prosecutors argued in a brief presented in the Bernhardt case Thursday that the Supreme Court ruling did not invalidate the state's Hard 50 law because the Supreme Court ruling applies to specific prison sentences, and not to the indeterminate life prison terms in Kansas first-degree murder cases.
Assistant Sedgwick County District Attorney Matthew Dwyer argues in the brief that parole is distinct from sentencing, and that the "Hard 50" law deals only with parole. District Judge William Woolley gave defense lawyer Steve Osburn until Aug. 30 to respond to the prosecution brief.
Woolley also scheduled a Sept. 13 hearing when lawyers on both sides will argue the issue. A new sentencing date for Bernhardt will be set after that hearing.
Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com