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Justices set execution in stun-belt restraint case

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The Indiana Supreme Court has denied a condemned inmate's challenge to his death sentence and set a date for what would be the state's first execution in more than two years.

Issuing an order on a post-conviction relief request, justices decided 4-1 to deny the claims in Matthew Eric Wrinkles v. State of Indiana, No. 82S00-0905-SD-249. Wrinkles was convicted and sentenced to die for the murders of his wife, her brother, and her sister-in-law in July 1994. The convictions and sentences have been upheld at the state and federal appellate levels, including claims that Wrinkles had been forced to wear a stun-belt restraint at trial. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up that issue.

In his filing for successive post-conviction relief, Wrinkles argued that he received ineffective assistance of counsel during the guilt and sentencing phases of trial because his attorney did not object to the stun-belt restraint, which may have been visible to jurors. However, the majority of justices determined Wrinkles did not adequately establish a reasonable possibility that he's entitled to post-conviction relief.

Justice Theodore Boehm was the lone dissenter, writing his own opinion that says he would grant Wrinkle's request for a successive post-conviction hearing, as long as it's limited to the determination of whether the penalty phase was held in violation of the 14th Amendment.

"Because I believe the resolution of this case is far from simple, and involves the interplay among several legal doctrines, I attempt to summarize my reasoning at the outset," he wrote, before penning six pages of a dissent.

"A convicted person gets only one opportunity to raise a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment. Wrinkles has already presented a claim of ineffective assistance," Justice Boehm wrote. "In an ordinary case, that would preclude revisiting that issue. This is a death penalty case, however, and the claim relates only to the penalty, not conviction as to which the lack of prejudice seems clear. I would not permit a death sentence to be carried out without assuring that it has been imposed in accordance with the law."

Without any stay of execution in place, justices issued a separate order setting the lethal injection for before sunrise on Dec. 11.

If the execution goes forward without intervention by federal courts or Gov. Mitch Daniels, then Wrinkles would be the first person executed in Indiana since June 2007 - when Michael Lambert received a lethal injection for the killing of a Muncie police officer almost two decades earlier. In total, 19 people have been executed in Indiana since the state brought back the death penalty - eight since Daniels took office in 2005.

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