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. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.