A unanimous court ruled Feb. 27 in Antwain Henley v. State of Indiana, No. 82S05-0701-PC-31, which comes from a Vanderburgh County case at the post-conviction relief stage involving a pro se litigant. The Court of Appeals panel issued a ruling in October 2006, reversing and holding in favor of the defendant Henley, and remanding for a new trial. The Supreme Court granted transfer last year and heard arguments in April.
The case goes back to August 1998, when Henley kidnapped two women at gunpoint and forced them into their car's trunk, after having them remove their clothes. Police stopped the car and Henley ran; officers used a canine to track him into a van, where he fatally shot the dog inside. A jury convicted him on several felony counts the following year, after litigation disputes about whether Henley was representing himself or having standby counsel assist, and he received an 80-year sentence. On appeal, Henley's attorney raised 10 issues but four were waived for lack of cogent argument and citable authority.
Last year, the sole argument that won the three-judge panel's reversal was an assertion that direct appeal counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to challenge the trial court's summary denial of Henley's request that standby counsel during trial deliver closing arguments. At the time, the trial court had determined Henley was proceeding pro se.
Writing for the court, Justice Robert D. Rucker reversed the post-conviction ruling on an issue not addressed by the Court of Appeals because of the appellate attorney's ineffective assistance.
The lawyer representing Henley on appeal should have challenged the sufficiency of the evidence, since a conviction on the attempted murder charge requires proof of a specific intent to kill, Justice Rucker wrote. Evidence in this case reveals that, as he was fleeing from police, Henley shot his gun in an attempt to ward off an attack by a large dog and protect himself, not that he was trying to kill the canine officer. Though a jury rejected that argument, Justice Rucker said the record doesn't include any evidence to support the claim and that intent wasn't established beyond a reasonable doubt.
"In this case, the Court of Appeals on direct review did not actually adjudicate Henley's sufficiency of the evidence claim. This was so because although appellate counsel presented the issue, he did such a poor job that the court declined to address the claim on grounds of waiver," Justice Rucker wrote. "We are persuaded that had appellate counsel presented cogent argument with citation to relevant authority challenging the sufficiency of evidence to support the attempted murder conviction, the outcome of the appeal would have been different, namely, the conviction would have been reversed."
While ruling that appellate counsel didn't adequately challenge the evidence of intent, Justice Rucker also made an interesting footnote that a similar legal issue is being argued in March before the U.S. Supreme Court, and that decision could change the analysis of this state case.
That case is Indiana v. Edwards, 128 S. Ct. 741 (2007), and questions whether states may adopt higher standards for measuring competency to represent oneself at trial than for measuring competency to stand trial. Arguments are set for March 26.
"The outcome of Edwards may have a bearing on our analysis in this case," Justice Rucker observed. "But we are bound by the present state of the law, which declares that competency to represent oneself at trial is measured by competency to stand trial. Henley concedes that he was 'competent to waive counsel and represent himself in spite of his mental retardation.' We are compelled to agree."