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SCOTUS declines death row inmate's appeal

March 8, 2010

The nation's highest court has declined to accept a death row inmate's case, leaving intact an Indiana judge's ruling that OK'd a federal prison policy banning face-to-face interviews with reporters.

In an order list issued today, the Supreme Court of the United States indicated that during its March 5 conference it denied certiorari in David Paul Hammer v. John D. Ashcroft, et al., No. 09-504, which involves the federal prison inmate being housed in Terre Haute. Even though a federal judge tossed David Paul Hammer's sentence in 2005, he remains on death row as the government is still deciding whether to re-seek execution.

The appeal involved Hammer's challenge to a policy adopted by the U.S. Attorney, which banned death row inmates from conducting in-person interviews with the media after Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in 2000 appeared on "60 Minutes." Hammer sued in 2004, and in February 2006 then-U.S. District Judge John D. Tinder in Indianapolis granted summary judgment against him. A 7th Circuit panel reversed that decision in 2008, but last summer the full court affirmed Judge Tinder - who by then was elevated to the appellate bench but didn't participate in this decision. Attorneys appealed to the SCOTUS in October, but justices declined to intervene in the prison free-speech case even though 23 news media organizations had urged them to hear the case.

Originally sentenced to die in 1998 for the April 1996 strangling death of his cellmate, Hammer has been appealing that death sentence for a decade. He's gotten national attention for not only his appeals but also his prison behavior through the years. An insulin-dependent diabetic, Hammer attempted suicide the night before McVeigh's execution in 2001 by injecting insulin directly into his veins; later that year he also went on a hunger strike and refused food and insulin because of visitation problems.

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