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, 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, 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, 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. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues