ILNews

Death row inmate’s habeas petition denied

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

A federal judge in South Bend has denied a death row inmate’s request for habeas corpus, rejecting the man’s claims that he is mentally retarded and, therefore, cannot be sentenced to death.

Chief Judge Robert L Miller Jr. in the Northern District of Indiana released the 83-page decision Tuesday which states the record doesn’t support finding that the Indiana courts acted unreasonably in finding that Tom Pruitt is not mentally retarded and that his attorneys provided anything short of effective assistance.

Pruitt was convicted of murdering Morgan County Deputy Sheriff Daniel Starnes and was sentenced to death. Starnes pulled Pruitt over in June 2001 after seeing Pruitt driving erratically. When Starnes approached Pruitt’s car, Pruitt filed several shots at Starnes and his college-aged son, who was riding along with his dad. Starnes died nearly a month after the shooting after developing an infection.

All along, Pruitt has sought to have the death penalty precluded under Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), claiming he suffered from mental retardation and that the imposition of the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment.

A divided Indiana Supreme Court affirmed his convictions and sentence and affirmed the denial of post-conviction relief.

Pruitt raised eight arguments in his habeas corpus petition, including that his execution is barred by the Eighth Amendment because he is mentally retarded, his attorneys were ineffective, and there was an improper jury instruction.

Miller noted that Pruitt is borderline – either a high-functioning mentally retarded individual or an individual with a very low average intelligence – and that the courts “faced the challenge of deciding where Mr. Pruitt fits on that imprecise continuum.”

Miller did grant a certificate of appealability as to four of the claims raised by Pruitt: whether the death sentence violated the Eighth Amendment because he is mentally retarded; whether his trial counsel were ineffective for failing to investigate adequately and present readily available evidence of his mental retardation at the pre-trial mental retardation hearing and at the trial penalty’s phase;  whether his trial counsel were ineffective for failing to investigate and present readily available evidence in support of a verdict of guilty but mentally ill; and whether Pruitt’s death sentence was obtained in violation of the Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury and his right to due process law because the jury wasn’t instructed that it had to find that the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt.

 

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Indiana State Bar Association

Indianapolis Bar Association

Evansville Bar Association

Allen County Bar Association

Indiana Lawyer on Facebook

facebook
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

ADVERTISEMENT