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SCOTUS declines Indiana death penalty case

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The nation’s highest court won’t re-consider a ruling by the Indiana Supreme Court late last year that upheld a man’s death sentence and revised its stance on what it means when a jury fails to recommend a unanimous sentence.

In a private conference Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States denied a writ of certiorari in the case of Daniel Ray Wilkes v. Indiana, 09-1539, which stems from the state Supreme Court’s unanimous direct appeal ruling Dec. 9, 2009. The justices affirmed Daniel Ray Wilkes' convictions and death penalty and in March denied a rehearing request. His defense attorneys in June filed a request with the SCOTUS for review. An order list issued today shows the court declined the request.

Wilkes was arrested in 2006 for the murders in Evansville of Donna Claspell and her daughters, 13-year-old Avery Pike and 8-year-old Sydne Claspell, and a jury ultimately found him guilty. But the jurors couldn’t reach a unanimous agreement on whether Wilkes should live or die, as one person opposed the sentence. Special Judge Carl Heldt from Clark Circuit Court sentenced him to death, but Wilkes argued the trial court should have considered the jury's inability to arrive at a unanimous sentencing recommendation as a mitigating factor.

A divided state Supreme Court had previously held in Roche v. State, 596 N.E.2d 896 (Ind. 1992), that no meaning should be interpreted from a jury's failure to reach a recommendation, nor should it be considered as a mitigating factor during the penalty phase. With its decision last year in Wilkes, the justices found the jury's uncertainty to be a relevant consideration rather than a mitigating factor that the trial court should consider in determining an appropriate sentence.

"We cannot say that the death sentences in this case are inappropriate. The nature of the offense is a triple murder of a mother and her two children. The murders, especially of Donna and Sydne, were committed in a particularly gruesome manner. We have upheld death sentences in similar cases," Justice Theodore R. Boehm wrote for the court at the time.

Now that the federal justices have denied Wilkes’ request, his post-conviction timetable begins with a hearing set for next summer and a special judge’s decision expected by August 2011. Ultimately, the Indiana Supreme Court will likely again receive the case at the post-conviction relief stage and eventually may have to decide when to set an execution date.

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  3. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  4. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  5. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

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