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Death row inmate’s habeas petition denied

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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.

 

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  1. A sad end to a prolific gadfly. Indiana has suffered a great loss in the journalistic realm.

  2. Good riddance to this dangerous activist judge

  3. What is the one thing the Hoosier legal status quo hates more than a whistleblower? A lawyer whistleblower taking on the system man to man. That must never be rewarded, must always, always, always be punished, lest the whole rotten tree be felled.

  4. I want to post this to keep this tread alive and hope more of David's former clients might come forward. In my case, this coward of a man represented me from June 2014 for a couple of months before I fired him. I knew something was wrong when he blatantly lied about what he had advised me in my contentious and unfortunate divorce trial. His impact on the proceedings cast a very long shadow and continues to impact me after a lengthy 19 month divorce. I would join a class action suit.

  5. The dispute in LB Indiana regarding lake front property rights is typical of most beach communities along our Great Lakes. Simply put, communication to non owners when visiting the lakefront would be beneficial. The Great Lakes are designated navigational waters (including shorelines). The high-water mark signifies the area one is able to navigate. This means you can walk, run, skip, etc. along the shores. You can't however loiter, camp, sunbath in front of someones property. Informational signs may be helpful to owners and visitors. Our Great Lakes are a treasure that should be enjoyed by all. PS We should all be concerned that the Long Beach, Indiana community is on septic systems.

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