Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ineffective Counsel: Ninth ; Sechrest v. Ignatio, 549 F.3d 789 (9th Cir. 2008); McDaniel v. Sechrest, 130 S.Ct. 243 (2009) (U.S.) Cert. Den.

The Supreme Court has denied cert. in McDaniel v. Sechrest, 2009 WL 2058161 (C.A. 9) in yet another "ineffective counsel" case. Apparently the defense lawyer stipulated that the prosecutor could call a doctor who had examined Sechrest in the capacity of a defense witness. Although obviously unusual, defense counsel testified in a post evidentiary hearing that he thought the testimony would be more favorable. Admittedly questionable, but if the defendant had called the witness the testimony would have been the same. Or, if he did not call the doctor at all, there would have been no testimony. The result would have been the same. Here is the Ninth Circuit summary of the evidence: "On May 14, 1983, [the defendant] kidnapped and murdered ten-year old Maggie Weaver and nine -year-old Carly Villa. A few weeks later, two men found the girls' bodies in [a canyon] a remote area east of Reno, Nevada." This one sentence matter-of-fact rendition of a vicious murder of two young children surely did not warm the hearts of the parents. The court wrote nothing about the facts of the double homicide of two innocent and vulnerable children, and the defendant had no defense having confessed voluntarily to committing the crime, (even the Ninth Circuit panel could not reverse on Miranda grounds). But the prosecutor in his closing argument to the jury referred to the pathetic defense case as a "sham" and defense counsel failed to object. "Highly prejudicial" said the Ninth Circuit, so harmful the court vacated the death penalty. The Ninth Circuit panel evaded the obvious procedural default of the defendant on his writ of habeas corpus and the court held it was not prevented form resolving another legal issue never raised in the defendant's state court post conviction filing. When the prosecutor argued for the death penalty to the jury, he apparently mis cited the State of Nevada rules on parole and the defendant's eligibility for release from custody. The last straw: Sechrest was convicted in 1983 and the Supreme Court denied cert in 2009. And the case is not over. The Ninth Circuit panel ordered further evidentiary hearings.

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