Justices decide on 3 death penalty cases

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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The Indiana Supreme Court justices have the state's death penalty system on their minds.

Three rulings handed down this week have involved capital cases, including one that sets a new execution date for a condemned inmate. But some of the written rationale shows reluctance on at least two justices' parts to impose the death sentence.

In a ruling dated May 21in Michael Allen Lambert v. State of Indiana, No. 18S00-0412-SD-503, the court denied the latest appeal and ordered a new execution date of June 15 for Lambert, who is set to die for the shooting death of a Muncie police officer in 1990.

Shortly before Lambert was to be executed in June 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to lift an order by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocking his execution. The federal appeals court ultimately lifted the stay, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined for a fourth time to review his case.

That resulted in an appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court, where Lambert argued that his death sentence should be overturned because the state's high court had held previously that the jury in his case was improperly exposed to victim-impact evidence. He also argued that the state Supreme Court through the course of his litigation - via separate rulings - a majority of the five justices had dissented on the propriety of his death sentence. But in the 4-1 decision, the court wrote that Lambert had not met his burden of proving he should get relief.

Justice Robert D. Rucker dissented in a separate opinion, writing that he had dissented in Lambert's direct appeal and respectfully felt that the court should grant the petition.

Justice Theodore Boehm also wrote a separate concurring opinion that said "I respectfully but regrettably concur in the denial of Lambert's petition," adding that he had dissented in Lambert's direct appeal but stare decisis in 1996 and 2005 decisions have "foreclosed all issues now presented to us. Although I disagreed with those decisions, they remain the decisions of this Court ..."

Other death penalty-related rulings this week came in two high-profile cases, as well. A decision came in Fredrick Michael Baer v. State of Indiana, No. 45S00-04-DP-181, which involved the February 2004 murders of Jenna Clark and Cory Clark. Justice Brent Dickson wrote the unanimous 18-page opinion that rejected claims of prosecutorial misconduct, and trial court error in admitting telephone calls from jail and the mishandling of jurors.

Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard wrote the other opinion in Wayne Kubsch v. State of Indiana, No. 71S00-507-DP-333, which affirmed the trial court decision in a case that justices had overturned before. The St. Joseph County man was convicted and sentenced to death in 2000 for the triple murder of his wife, her ex-husband, and her 11-year-old son, but the Supreme Court reversed and remanded for a new trial in 2003 on grounds that jurors had improperly been allowed to see a videotaped police interrogation tape after Kubsch invoked his right to silence.

He was retried, convicted, and sentenced again, but his attorneys last year argued to justices that Kubsch deserved yet another trial because that county's prosecutor had once represented another man charged in the crime.

However, the court has ruled that appointment of a special prosecutor was not necessary because no conflict existed between Prosecutor Michael Dvorak and duties to a former client or the county citizens.

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  1. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.