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Federal judge upholds Evansville man's death sentence

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A federal judge in Indianapolis has upheld the death sentence of a condemned man who killed his wife and two young children in Evansville a decade ago.

U.S. Judge Tanya Walton Pratt ruled Thursday in the case of Paul M. McManus v. Bill Watson, No 1:07-cv-1483, denying a habeas corpus petition by Paul McManus. He was convicted by a jury in 2001 and sentenced to die for the February 2001 shooting deaths of his wife and children after she had filed for divorce. The convictions and sentence were upheld on direct appeal, but a post-conviction trial court later determined McManus was mentally retarded and turned the death sentence into life without parole. A divided Indiana Supreme Court in June 2007 reinstated the death penalty after reviewing the record, and the nation’s highest court declined to overturn that ruling.

Filing this habeas corpus petition in February 2008, McManus alleged that he was incompetent to stand trial because he had ingested medication and was forced to appear before the jury in a “drug-induced stupor that dramatically and artificially altered his demeanor,” the state failed to disclose exculpatory evidence, his execution is barred by the Eighth Amendment because he is mentally retarded, trial counsel was ineffective in investigating his defense and presenting mitigating evidence, and that he was sentenced to death based on a judge’s findings rather than a jury decision.

Judge Pratt issued a 28-page decision determining that McManus hadn’t met his burden in proving the allegations or that he hadn’t raised a particular issue during the direct appeal stage before the Indiana state courts.

One significant driving point in the Indiana Supreme Court reinstatement was McManus’ level of intellectual functioning at the time of the crime. McManus challenged the state justices’ conclusions on that point and argued that both evidence and research from mental and psychological organizations show he wasn’t competent to stand trial. But Judge Pratt found the justices adequately examined and explained that point and didn’t misapply caselaw to his particular facts.

Judge Pratt pointed out in her conclusion that McManus’ convictions and sentence have withstood challenge in the Indiana state court system and so a presumption of constitutional regularity attached to it, according to Farmer v. Litscher, 303 F. 3d 840, 845 (7th Cir. 2002). She carefully reviewed the state record relating to his current claims and found that no such established rules entitle McManus to any habeas corpus relief.

The Indiana attorney general’s office responded to the ruling on Friday, saying this ruling is “one important step in a complex, decade-long legal process” and is part of the state’s effort for justice.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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