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Death row inmate denied relief by 7th Circuit

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An Arkansas man on death row in Indiana for killing a woman in Texas nearly 20 years ago was unable to convince the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that he should not be put to death. Bruce Carneil Webster argues he is mentally retarded and has new evidence that would affect his sentence.

There is no question that Webster is guilty of killing the woman in 1994, the court opinion states, but Webster claims that Social Security Administration records his current legal team acquired could have changed the outcome of his trial. He applied for the benefits before the crime was committed, and it shows that Webster scored under 60 on an IQ test. Webster had presented other evidence at his trial that he is mentally retarded, but the prosecutor presented evidence that Webster is not retarded and trying to use the diagnosis to get out of the death penalty.

Webster originally sought relief in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals under 28 U.S.C. Section 2255, but they were denied. He then sought collateral relief under Section 2241 in federal court in Terre Haute, where he is incarcerated. Judge William Lawrence of the Southern District of Indiana denied his petition, finding it is blocked by Section 2255(e). Lawrence found Webster’s own failure to present the SSA evidence does not demonstrate statutory inadequacy or ineffectiveness.

“We agree with that conclusion. Taken in the light most favorable to Webster – which is to say, on the assumption that the evidence is “newly discovered” and might have affected the jury’s evaluation — the arguments now presented tend to impugn the effectiveness of Webster’s former lawyers but not of §2255. The trial, the direct appeal, and the proceeding under §2255 offered opportunities to use the evidence that Webster now seeks to present. That Webster’s legal team did not take (full) advantage of those opportunities does not demonstrate a flaw in the statute,” Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote in Bruce Carneil Webster v. John F. Caraway, Warden, United States Penitentiary, Terre Haute, 14-1049.

“No court of appeals has deemed §2255 ‘inadequate or ineffective’ just because counsel failed to take maximum advantage of the opportunity it extends. … Webster does not persuade us to change course,” he wrote.

Webster has long known of the “newly discovered” evidence, Easterbrook pointed out, and his trial lawyer knew about it, but appears he did not simply follow through on obtaining it. And the Social Security records would not facilitate a new line of defense, the judges held.
 

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