Murderer’s writ for relief denied by 7th Circuit

April 15, 2015

For the fourth time, a northern Indiana man’s appeal of his death sentence for four murders has come before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. This time, the judges affirmed the denial of his writ for habeas corpus.

Joseph Corcoran was convicted of murder for the killings of four men at his home in Fort Wayne in 1997. The trial judge imposed the death penalty in accordance with the jury’s recommendation. Corcoran has repeatedly appealed, with the case coming before the District Court twice, before the 7th Circuit four times, and the Indiana Supreme Court twice.

At issue in Joseph E. Corcoran v. Ron Neal, superintendent, 13-1318,  is whether the trial judge impermissibly considered nonstatutory aggravating factors; and whether the judge failed or refused to consider two of Corcoran’s proffered mitigators: that he was 22 at the time of the murders and he had good behavior in prison.

In an earlier decision handed down by the 7th Circuit, the court held the Indiana Supreme Court unreasonably found that the trial judge did not rely on nonstatutory aggravating factors. The first time the justices heard the case, they believed the trial judge may have relied on “future dangerousness” in deciding whether to impose the death penalty, and the court remanded the case. The trial judge then explained she did not rely on nonstautory factors, which the Supreme Court agreed with the second time the case was before it.

“We previously disagreed with that determination, but our earlier decision – now vacated – did not adequately grapple with the deference owed to state-court factual findings under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act,” Judge Diane Sykes wrote. “Giving the matter a fresh look through the lens of AEDPA’s deferential standard of review, we now concluded that the state supreme court’s factual determination was not unreasonable.”

The 7th Circuit also affirmed that the Supreme Court reasonably determined that the trial judge considered all proffered evidence in mitigation.

“[H]ere the judge was not silent on the subjects of Corcoran’s age and behavior in jail. She clearly addressed both factors and simply declined to credit them as mitigating circumstances,” Sykes wrote.



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