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Court puts death penalty case on hold

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed an Indianapolis judge's decision on a death penalty case, putting a condemned convict's death penalty appeal on hold indefinitely because of his current mental state.

In the latest stage of a long-running federal appeal on Eric D. Holmes v. Mark E. Levenhagen, Nos. 04-3549 and 06-2905, the three-judge appellate panel reversed a decision from U.S. Judge Larry McKinney in the Southern District of Indiana. The case involves the man convicted of killing two of his managers at an Indianapolis Shoney's restaurant hours after his firing in 1989. A state judge sentenced him in 1993, and his federal appeals have been ongoing for nearly a decade. The 7th Circuit remanded the case to Judge McKinney to determine the competency issue, of which the appellate panel found his examination was inadequate.

In today's ruling, the 7th Circuit was again unpursuaded by Judge McKinney's examination of the competency issue as it relates to expert psychiatric reports received. In one instance, authoring U.S. Judge Richard Posner wrote about being "troubled" by the District judge's evaluation that seems to have given weight to one expert more than another. The accuracy of his decision that Holmes is competent for the proceedings is in question, Judge Posner wrote.

"The implication is profoundly unsatisfactory - that Holmes is to be consigned to habeas corpus limbo indefinitely - but we cannot come up with a satisfactory alternative," the appellate judge wrote.

Writing that it reluctantly reverses Judge McKinney's decision, the court reversed and remanded it to his court to put on hold until the state provides "substantial new evidence that Holmes' psychiatric illness has abated, or its symptoms are sufficiently controlled, to justify the resumption of the proceeding."

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