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Zachary's Law case could go to SCOTUS

January 30, 2008

The Indiana Attorney General's Office wants the nation's highest court to review the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling from last summer on a death-penalty case, which inspired Zachary's Law that requires convicted child molesters to register their addresses in a statewide public database.

Attorneys filed a petition for writ of certiorari this week with the Supreme Court of the United States in the case against Christopher M. Stevens, who was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1993 murder of 10-year-old Zachary Snider in Cloverdale.

Originally, the case was moved from Putnam County to Tippecanoe County and moved through the state's appellate system - the Indiana Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and sentence in Stevens v. Indiana, 691 N.E.2d 412 (Ind. 1997).

U.S. District Judge Allen Sharp at the Northern District of Indiana in Hammond also denied Stevens' claims for habeas corpus, but on June 18, 2007, the 7th Circuit set aside the death penalty unless the state offered a new sentencing hearing.

The three-judge panel - led by authoring Judge Diane Wood - held that Stevens' defense counsel should have pursued more mental health experts and evidence, but Judge Daniel Manion disagreed and wouldn't have granted relief. Judge Kenneth Ripple also wrote separately to say he would've taken relief a step further in that he thought the ineffective counsel also affected Stevens' conviction.

In his petition, Attorney General Steve Carter contends that the federal appellate decision ignored the state court's prejudice analysis and failed to defer to those decisions. Counsel isn't required to continue looking for experts just because one gave an unfavorable opinion, Carter wrote.

"The state courts explained that Stevens suffered no prejudice from any of counsel's potential errors in developing and presenting mental health evidence because the objective facts of the crime and Stevens' own confession 'strongly contradict' the notion that he was insane or impaired at the time of the crime," the petition states.

The court will likely make a decision about whether to accept the case by the end of its current term in June.

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