7th Circuit rejects prisoner’s ineffective assistance appeal

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A man convicted of attempted murder failed to convince a panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that he suffered sufficient prejudice to warrant relief from a 90-year sentence imposed after a brutal crime.

The panel affirmed District Judge Sarah Evans Barker’s denial of a writ of habeas corpus in Che B. Carter v. Keith Butts, 13-2466. Che Carter and another man viciously assaulted Donna Stegemiller in her home in 1990. In 1991, Carter was convicted of burglary, robbery, rape and attempted murder.

Carter’s post-conviction petition was denied by the Indiana Supreme Court, which vacated a Court of Appeals finding that Carter had received ineffective assistance of counsel and was therefore entitled to relief. The Supreme Court found Carter had not met the prejudice element of the two-prong test for ineffective assistance established in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984).

“We do not find that the Indiana Supreme Court unreasonably applied clearly established federal law; rather, we find that the Indiana Supreme Court reasonably concluded that Carter was not sufficiently prejudiced by (attorney Belle) Choate’s failure to challenge the attempted murder jury instruction to warrant relief,” Judge William J. Bauer wrote for the panel.

The jury instructions and evidence as a whole made clear to the jury that it was required to find that Carter intended to kill Stegemiller in order to convict, the Indiana Supreme Court held.

“While Choate’s performance may well have been deficient, we find that the Indiana Supreme Court’s conclusion … was not an unreasonable one,” Bauer wrote.


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