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Justices uphold Baer's death penalty

January 26, 2011

The Indiana Supreme Court has unanimously affirmed the denial of a murderer’s petition for post-conviction relief, leaving his death sentence in place.

Fredrick Michael Baer was found guilty of murdering Cory Clark and her 4-year-old daughter in February 2004. At trial, Baer pled guilty but mentally ill and was examined by two court-appointed mental-health experts. The court rejected his plea because the reports by the experts didn’t sufficiently state he was mentally ill at the time of the crime.

Baer pled guilty but mentally ill with the intent that he wouldn’t be sentenced to death, believing those who are mentally ill at the time they commit the crime couldn’t be given the death penalty. He never claimed to be insane. The justices first upheld the sentence in May 2007.

In Fredrick Michael Baer v. State of Indiana, No. 48S00-0709-PD-362, the justices again upheld Baer’s sentence following the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief. Baer raised 103 allegations before the post-conviction court that dealt with prosecutorial misconduct, ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel, the rejection of his guilty but mentally ill plea, cruel and unusual punishment based on the state’s method of execution, and a challenge to his death sentence based on being mentally ill.

In the 37-page decision authored by Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard, the justices only touched on a few of Baer’s 103 contentions, noting that they did consider all of them. In regards to his trial counsel, Baer’s attorney was not ineffective regarding timely and comprehensive mental-health evaluations, in his attempt to plead guilty but mentally ill, failure to seek a continuance or conduct adequate jury selection, in his presentation of the guilty but mentally ill plea at the guilt phase, or in his cross examination of one of the doctors who examined Baer. The trial counsel wasn’t deficient by not objecting to the use of projected crime scene photographs on a large screen, by not objecting to certain jury instructions, or in presenting or investigating mitigating evidence.

The justices held his appellate counsel, Mark Maynard, wasn’t ineffective. Baer argued that Maynard inadequately challenged the appropriateness of Baer’s death sentence.

“As for whether Maynard should have tried to break new ground, the U.S. Supreme Court has never held that the U.S. Constitution precludes executing the mentally ill,” wrote the chief justice.” In fact, this Court has expressly held that the U.S. Constitution does not, and we have held, with one dissent, that the Indiana Constitution does permit the State to execute the mentally ill.”

They also found Maynard wasn’t ineffective for not challenging the trial court’s rejection of Baer’s guilty but mentally ill plea, not challenging the admission of Baer’s knife into evidence, not raising a Crawford claim, or in not challenging certain penalty-phase jury instructions.

The Supreme Court also held that testimony regarding Baer’s psychosis by Earl Taylor, a former fellow inmate of Baer’s from the 1990s, is not newly discovered evidence and that the Eighth Amendment doesn’t bar the application of the death penalty on grounds of retardation.
 

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