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Federal judge upholds death sentence

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A federal judge in northern Indiana has denied a condemned inmate’s request to take him off death row, rejecting multiple claims that include one that would basically create a new rule prohibiting those who are severely mentally ill from being executed as is the standard for the mentally retarded.

U.S. Chief Judge Philip Simon in South Bend on Thursday issued an order in the case of Michael Dean Overstreet, who was convicted and sentenced to die in 2000 for the murder, rape, and confinement of Franklin College student Kelly Eckart three years earlier. Johnson Superior Judge Cynthia Emkes imposed the death sentence and that was upheld on direct appeal in 2003 and in post-conviction relief proceedings in subsequent years. Overstreet had been set to be executed by lethal injection May 30, 2008.

But before that date, the convicted killer filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Northern District of Indiana and his execution was stayed.

Overstreet raised 11 claims in his petition for relief, arguments that ranged from ineffective trial and appellate counsel, procedural and evidentiary issues during his trial and appeals, and inadequate review by the Indiana Supreme Court in addressing the issue of whether he should be considered “mentally ill” and eligible for execution.

In early March, Chief Judge Simon issued a 72-page opinion denying the petition on all grounds and upholding the death sentence. The judge granted certifiability on five of those claims for appeal, including procedural issues, whether Overstreet was prejudiced by trial counsel omissions, and the severe mental-illness arguments.

Specifically, on that 11th claim regarding mental illness, Chief Judge Simon wrote that Overstreet is essentially asking the court to extend the landmark holding of Atkins v. Virginia, 536, U.S. 304(2002), that banned the execution of the mentally retarded, to his specific case and condition. At the PCR state level, Indiana Supreme Court Justice Robert Rucker had dissented from his colleagues’ decision about executing Overstreet because under the state Constitution he didn’t see the man’s mental health being practically any different than those who are considered mentally retarded.

“Overstreet essentially asks me to take the state constitutional analysis that Justice Rucker employed and apply its reasoning as federal constitutional law in this case,” Chief Judge Simon wrote in the March order. “That analysis was not supported by any of the four other justices – all of whom disagreed with Justice Rucker’s interpretation of the Indiana Constitution. Moreover, Overstreet has not identified any court which has adopted this position and the 11th Circuit has expressly rejected it. Even assuming that Overstreet suffers from a serious mental illness, I am not convinced that there is a legal basis for adopting what Overstreet himself acknowledges would be a ‘new rule.’ Though the United States Supreme Court may one day extend the underlying principles of Atkins to such defendants, it has not yet done so.”

Overstreet asked the judge to alter his sentence based on misapplication of law, but Chief Judge Simon refused to do that in a five-page order this week.

Now, the death row inmate housed in Michigan City has the opportunity to appeal to the 7th Circuit and ultimately the nation’s highest court before the clemency process begins.
 
 

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  1. On a related note, I offered the ICLU my cases against the BLE repeatedly, and sought their amici aid repeatedly as well. Crickets. Usually not even a response. I am guessing they do not do allegations of anti-Christian bias? No matter how glaring? I have posted on other links the amicus brief that did get filed (search this ezine, e.g., Kansas attorney), read the Thomas More Society brief to note what the ACLU ran from like vampires from garlic. An Examiner pledged to advance diversity and inclusion came right out on the record and demanded that I choose Man's law or God's law. I wonder, had I been asked to swear off Allah ... what result then, ICLU? Had I been found of bad character and fitness for advocating sexual deviance, what result then ICLU? Had I been lifetime banned for posting left of center statements denigrating the US Constitution, what result ICLU? Hey, we all know don't we? Rather Biased.

  2. It was mentioned in the article that there have been numerous CLE events to train attorneys on e-filing. I would like someone to provide a list of those events, because I have not seen any such events in east central Indiana, and since Hamilton County is one of the counties where e-filing is mandatory, one would expect some instruction in this area. Come on, people, give some instruction, not just applause!

  3. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  4. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  5. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

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