ILNews

Split court reinstates death sentence

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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The Indiana Supreme Court has reinstated the death sentence for a Vanderburgh County man who a lower court judge found was mentally retarded and should be sentenced to life without parole for the killing of his wife and two young children.

A split court issued the 19-page opinion today in State v. Paul M. McManus, No. 82S00-0503-PD-78, with Justices Ted Boehm and Robert d. Rucker dissenting from the majority of Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard, and Justices Brent Dickson and Frank Sullivan.

McManus was convicted of the 2001 shooting murders of his wife and two children, and sentenced to death. He petitioned for post-conviction relief in 2005 after the state's highest court affirmed his convictions and sentence. His main argument rejected at the time was that he wasn't competent to stand trial.

On post-conviction in March 2006, Senior Judge William J. Brune in Vanderburgh County ruled McManus was retarded and therefore could not be executed for his crimes. The state appealed, asking the Indiana Supreme Court to again consider this capital case and decide if McManus is legally ineligible for the death sentence as the lower court judge determined.

At arguments in April, attorneys debated whether McManus is considered mentally retarded, if the death penalty is barred here, whether his competency or lack thereof prejudiced him at trial, and if he had ineffective trial counsel assistance.

On the claim of ineffective assistance, Chief Justice Shepard wrote, "The investigation and presentation of mitigating evidence by trial counsel was substantial and the fact that post-conviction lawyers have managed to find some that may be non-cumulative does not lead to a conclusion different from that of the post-conviction court, that McManus' trial counsel performed better than the Sixth Amendment requires."

But the most division on the court came from a more pressing issue: retardation and the death penalty.

"The post-conviction court's finding that McManus possess significantly subaverage intellectual functioning was clearly erroneous," the chief justice wrote. "In sum, McManus does not satisfy the intellectual functioning or adaptive behavior prongs. As such, the rule... does not bar the death penalty."

However, dissenting Justices Boehm and Rucker point out that the high court doesn't give sufficient deference to the lower court's finding of mental retardation, and that the standard of review isn't being applied equally for all cases.

In a 2005 ruling of Pruitt v. State, the court affirmed a finding that the defendant was not mentally retarded despite "significant evidence suggesting he was," Justice Boehm wrote.

"In my view, the clearly erroneous standard of review dictates affirming this trial court's determination as to mental retardation as well," he wrote.
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  1. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

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  3. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

  4. If justice is not found in a court room, it's time to clean house!!! Even judges are accountable to a higher Judge!!!

  5. The small claims system, based on my recent and current usage of it, is not exactly a shining example of justice prevailing. The system appears slow and clunky and people involved seem uninterested in actually serving justice within a reasonable time frame. Any improvement in accountability and performance would gain a vote from me. Speaking of voting, what do the people know about judges and justice from the bench perspective. I think they have a tendency to "vote" for judges based on party affiliation or name coolness factor (like Stoner, for example!). I don't know what to do in my current situation other than grin and bear it, but my case is an example of things working neither smoothly, effectively nor expeditiously. After this experience I'd pay more to have the higher courts hear the case -- if I had the money. Oh the conundrum.

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