ILNews

Justices decide on 3 death penalty cases

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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The Indiana Supreme Court justices have the state's death penalty system on their minds.

Three rulings handed down this week have involved capital cases, including one that sets a new execution date for a condemned inmate. But some of the written rationale shows reluctance on at least two justices' parts to impose the death sentence.

In a ruling dated May 21in Michael Allen Lambert v. State of Indiana http://www.in.gov/judiciary/opinions/pdf/05210701ad.pdf, No. 18S00-0412-SD-503, the court denied the latest appeal and ordered a new execution date of June 15 for Lambert, who is set to die for the shooting death of a Muncie police officer in 1990.

Shortly before Lambert was to be executed in June 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to lift an order by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocking his execution. The federal appeals court ultimately lifted the stay, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined for a fourth time to review his case.

That resulted in an appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court, where Lambert argued that his death sentence should be overturned because the state's high court had held previously that the jury in his case was improperly exposed to victim-impact evidence. He also argued that the state Supreme Court through the course of his litigation - via separate rulings - a majority of the five justices had dissented on the propriety of his death sentence. But in the 4-1 decision, the court wrote that Lambert had not met his burden of proving he should get relief.

Justice Robert D. Rucker dissented in a separate opinion, writing that he had dissented in Lambert's direct appeal and respectfully felt that the court should grant the petition.

Justice Theodore Boehm also wrote a separate concurring opinion that said "I respectfully but regrettably concur in the denial of Lambert's petition," adding that he had dissented in Lambert's direct appeal but stare decisis in 1996 and 2005 decisions have "foreclosed all issues now presented to us. Although I disagreed with those decisions, they remain the decisions of this Court ..."

Other death penalty-related rulings this week came in two high-profile cases, as well. A decision came in Fredrick Michael Baer v. State of Indiana http://www.in.gov/judiciary/opinions/pdf/05220701bd.pdf, No. 45S00-04-DP-181, which involved the February 2004 murders of Jenna Clark and Cory Clark. Justice Brent Dickson wrote the unanimous 18-page opinion that rejected claims of prosecutorial misconduct, and trial court error in admitting telephone calls from jail and the mishandling of jurors.

Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard wrote the other opinion in Wayne Kubsch v. State of Indiana http://www.in.gov/judiciary/opinions/pdf/05220702rts.pdf, No. 71S00-507-DP-333, which affirmed the trial court decision in a case that justices had overturned before. The St. Joseph County man was convicted and sentenced to death in 2000 for the triple murder of his wife, her ex-husband, and her 11-year-old son, but the Supreme Court reversed and remanded for a new trial in 2003 on grounds that jurors had improperly been allowed to see a videotaped police interrogation tape after Kubsch invoked his right to silence.

He was retried, convicted, and sentenced again, but his attorneys last year argued to justices that Kubsch deserved yet another trial because that county's prosecutor had once represented another man charged in the crime.

However, the court has ruled that appointment of a special prosecutor was not necessary because no conflict existed between Prosecutor Michael Dvorak and duties to a former client or the county citizens.
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