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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  1. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  2. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  3. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  4. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  5. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

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