ILNews

Split court reinstates death sentence

Michael W. Hoskins
June 27, 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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