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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. Future generations will be amazed that we prosecuted people for possessing a harmless plant. The New York Times came out in favor of legalization in Saturday's edition of the newspaper.

  2. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

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  4. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  5. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

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