7th Circuit upholds denial of habeas relief for man convicted of roommate’s shooting death

An Indiana man convicted of shooting and killing his roommate will not be granted habeas relief after the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals determined the man did not receive ineffective assistance of counsel just because his attorney did not pursue an insanity defense.

After David Frentz stopped drinking alcohol on the advice of his doctor, he began to complain of hallucinations. Concerned about Frentz’s mental state, his friend, Carl Brock, began calling Frentz repeatedly on Jan. 23, 2005 and reached him at 3:30 a.m. the following morning.

During the early-morning phone call, Brock heard Frentz yelling at Zackary Reynolds, his roommate. Frentz later called 911 and told police multiple people had broken into his house and were shooting off guns, injuring a friend in the chest.

However, officers found no sign of any traffic outside the home when they arrived. Instead, they found Frentz, who looked disoriented, an assault rifle and Reynold, who was dead after having been shot three times at close range.

Once he was taken into custody, Frentz gave varying accounts of the shooting to police and fellow inmates, including admitting to purchasing drugs the weekend of the shooting. He was ultimately charged with Reynolds’ murder, as well as related drug charges, and filed a notice to pursue an insanity defense.  

However, Frentz’s counsel later chose to withdraw an expert witness set to testify as to Frentz’s mental state, effectively ending the insanity defense. But his counsel did present some evidence at trial to support an insanity defense, including the fact that he told Brock he had been hallucinating the night before the shooting. 

The jury found Frentz guilty as charged, and the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed. The appellate court also affirmed the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, finding he had not received ineffective assistance of counsel.

Frentz then petitioned for habeas relief, which the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana rejected. Though Frentz raised multiple arguments in his petition, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals chose to address only one on appeal: whether his counsel was ineffective for not pursuing an insanity defense.

The circuit court upheld the denial of Frentz’s petition in a Wednesday decision in David Mark Frentz v. Richard Brown, 15-33479. Judge Sara Darrow, sitting by designation on the 7th Circuit bench from the Central District of Illinois, wrote for the appellate panel that counsel’s decision not to pursue the insanity defense was a permissible strategic decision.

Specifically, Darrow said the expert set to testify as to Frentz’s mental state could offer “no further opinion” as to whether he was suffering from hallucinations when he shot Reynolds. Further, Darrow noted Frentz changed his story several times, which indicated a cover up, not confusion.

Finally, the 7th Circuit determined Frentz was not prejudiced by his counsel’s decision not to pursue an insanity defense, considering his attorney did present evidence of his decision to quit drinking and his subsequent possible hallucinations.

“It is difficult to see how the addition of (an expert’s) … medical analysis of such symptoms would have lent more weight to counsel’s argument, or how a jury, given the added option to find Frentz not guilty by reason of insanity, would have done so on the strength of just this evidence, when, in the event, that same jury did find him guilty of a knowing or intentional killing,” Darrow wrote.

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