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. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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