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. 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.