Man on death row loses habeas petition before 7th Circuit

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld rulings lifting a stay on a man’s habeas corpus petition and dismissing his claims after the appellate court held his claims could be decided based on the state-court record.

It’s the third time the 7th Circuit has had to rule on a case involving Eric Holmes, who was convicted in 1992 of two murders he committed in 1989. He was sentenced to death in 1993.

Holmes exhausted his state appeals options and applied for federal habeas corpus. In 2007, the 7th Circuit ruled doubts of his mental competence remained and remanded the case. In 2010, the 7th Circuit again ruled there were still doubts regarding his mental competence and remanded the case, ordering the proceedings be suspended until Holmes’ mental illness has abated.

In 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States rejected the assertion that the right to counsel implies a right to competence in Ryan v. Gonzales, 133S. Ct. 696, 703 (2013), and all of Gonzales’ claims had been exhausted as a matter of law. Because of this ruling, the superintendent of the prison where Holmes was housed filed motions to stay the habeas corpus ruling and reinstate the dismissal of Holmes’ petition. The District Court did so. Holmes appealed that ruling, as well as the 2004 ruling that dismissed his claims.

Holmes’ claims in his appeal ran to 190 pages, Judge Richard Posner wrote for the court, and since his case has been going on for so long many of his claims have defaulted. A few have not, however, and those could be decided on the state-court record.

In one claim, Posner wrote a prosecutor calling Holmes’ defense attorney a “cry-baby” did not have any effect on the court’s ruling on the case. In another, the court said the deputy sheriff’s mentioning that Holmes said “first-degree murder” on his way to prison after his arrest did not sufficiently harm Holmes enough for a mistrial.

The defense also argued Holmes received ineffective counsel in his trial, but that was denied as well.

“Holmes presents still other arguments, but we have discussed the strongest ones and adopt the district court’s analysis of the others,” Posner wrote.

However, Holmes still retains a right to hearing to determine whether he is sufficiently mentally competent to be put to death for the murders he committed, and Posner was afraid this won’t be the last they hear from Holmes.

“Considering that he was convicted of the murders almost a quarter century ago and that if he fails to obtain relief in a hearing in the Indiana court system on his mental competency to be executed and having thus exhausted his state remedies files a further petition for habeas corpus in the federal district court and loses and appeals once again to us it will be the fourth time that we are called on to render a decision in this protracted litigation, we are dismayed at the prospect that looms before us of further and perhaps endless protraction of federal judicial review of Holmes’ conviction and sentence,” Posner wrote.

The cases are Eric D. Holmes v Ron Neal, Superintendent, Indiana State Prison,14-3359, 04-3549 and 06-2905.

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