Split court reinstates death sentence

Michael W. Hoskins
June 27, 2007
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The Indiana Supreme Court has reinstated the death sentence for a Vanderburgh County man who a lower court judge found was mentally retarded and should be sentenced to life without parole for the killing of his wife and two young children.

A split court issued the 19-page opinion today in State v. Paul M. McManus, No. 82S00-0503-PD-78, with Justices Ted Boehm and Robert d. Rucker dissenting from the majority of Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard, and Justices Brent Dickson and Frank Sullivan.

McManus was convicted of the 2001 shooting murders of his wife and two children, and sentenced to death. He petitioned for post-conviction relief in 2005 after the state's highest court affirmed his convictions and sentence. His main argument rejected at the time was that he wasn't competent to stand trial.

On post-conviction in March 2006, Senior Judge William J. Brune in Vanderburgh County ruled McManus was retarded and therefore could not be executed for his crimes. The state appealed, asking the Indiana Supreme Court to again consider this capital case and decide if McManus is legally ineligible for the death sentence as the lower court judge determined.

At arguments in April, attorneys debated whether McManus is considered mentally retarded, if the death penalty is barred here, whether his competency or lack thereof prejudiced him at trial, and if he had ineffective trial counsel assistance.

On the claim of ineffective assistance, Chief Justice Shepard wrote, "The investigation and presentation of mitigating evidence by trial counsel was substantial and the fact that post-conviction lawyers have managed to find some that may be non-cumulative does not lead to a conclusion different from that of the post-conviction court, that McManus' trial counsel performed better than the Sixth Amendment requires."

But the most division on the court came from a more pressing issue: retardation and the death penalty.

"The post-conviction court's finding that McManus possess significantly subaverage intellectual functioning was clearly erroneous," the chief justice wrote. "In sum, McManus does not satisfy the intellectual functioning or adaptive behavior prongs. As such, the rule... does not bar the death penalty."

However, dissenting Justices Boehm and Rucker point out that the high court doesn't give sufficient deference to the lower court's finding of mental retardation, and that the standard of review isn't being applied equally for all cases.

In a 2005 ruling of Pruitt v. State, the court affirmed a finding that the defendant was not mentally retarded despite "significant evidence suggesting he was," Justice Boehm wrote.

"In my view, the clearly erroneous standard of review dictates affirming this trial court's determination as to mental retardation as well," he wrote.

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  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.