In a list of certiorari denials released May 12, the nation's high court announced it wouldn't review the Hoosier cases Christopher Stevens v. Ed Buss, No. 07-7745, and Christopher J. Stephens v. Indiana, No. 07-9858. Both had been reviewed at the court's private conference last week.
Stevens is the case that inspired Zachary's Law. He was the man convicted and sentenced to death in 1995 for murder of 10-year-old Zachary Snider in Cloverdale two years earlier. Originally, the case was moved from Putnam County to Tippecanoe County and progressed through the state's appellate system; the Indiana Supreme Court affirmed that 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 farther in that he thought the ineffective counsel also affected Stevens' conviction.
In the certiorari petition filed late last year, Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter argued 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 stated.
Now, the case returns to the trial level. Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter said he heard from the attorney general this morning and said the process will now start for a new jury trial for the death penalty. Tippecanoe Superior Judge George Heid, who'd originally sent Stevens to death row, has since died and a new judge will be assigned.
Meanwhile, in Stephens, the court declined to consider an Elkhart County case that the Indiana Court of Appeals had decided in an October opinion, No. 20A05-0702-CR-95. The Indiana Supreme Court denied transfer in December 2007, and Stephens filed a certiorari petition at the nation's highest court in March. The appeal involved Stephens' felony conviction for nonsupport of a dependent and touched on various issues, including his inability to pay and whether the trial court properly denied his challenge to a prospective juror.