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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. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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