Capital Case Roundup — Death Penalty Court Decisions the Week of December 72020

NEWS (12/11/20) — Texas: The U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals has upheld the convictions and death sentences imposed on Major Nidal Hasan in the mass shooting at Fort Hood that killed 13 and wounded 32.

The appeals court ruled that the military judge did not err in allowing Major Hasan to represent himself at trial and sentencing and in denying standby counsel’s motion for the independent presentation of mitigation evidence. The court also rejected the defense’s argument that the trial should have been moved to a different venue because of extensive prejudicial pretrial publicity. Among other issues, the court also denied the defense’s challenges to the composition of the jury, saying that a juror who had a bumper sticker that read “Major League Infidel” could fairly and impartially decide Major Hasan’s case.

NEWS (12/10/20) — Nevada: The Nevada Supreme Court has reversed the convictions and death sentences imposed on Thomas Randolph for allegedly “conspiring with a hitman to have his sixth wife murdered during a staged burglary and then murdering the hitman.”

The court held that the state had improperly presented evidence of Randolph’s alleged prior bad acts related to the death of Randolph’s earlier wife, Betty, who died under similar circumstances. That evidence consisted almost exclusively of inadmissible hearsay testimony and prejudicial statements about the gruesomeness of Betty’s death, and Randolph had been acquitted of the murder charges.

NEWS (12/9/20) — Texas: The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has ruled that Clifton Williams is ineligible for the death penalty because of intellectual disability and has converted his death sentence to life imprisonment. Although the court initially upheld Williams’ death sentence, it later returned the case to the trial court for reconsideration after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Moore v. Texas that the Texas courts had been applying an unconstitutional standard for determining intellectual disability.

On remand, the Smith County trial court reviewed Williams’ evidence under the accepted clinical criteria for diagnosing intellectual disability and determined that Williams was intellectually disabled. The appeals court accepted the trial court’s findings and removed Williams from death row. Williams’ offense was committed in July 2005, just before the September 1, 2005 effective date of Texas’ life without parole statute. As a result, he will be eligible to apply for parole after serving 40 years in prison.

NEWS (12/8/20) — Ohio: The Ohio Court of Appeals for the 10th District has affirmed a trial court ruling overturning the death sentence imposed on Caron Montgomery, finding he had been provided ineffective representation in the penalty phase of his trial.

Montgomery’s trial counsel made a strategic decision to present evidence of his extensively traumatic upbringing, but failed to investigate and present testimony from mental health experts that could have explained the significant effects of that trauma. The appeals court agreed that counsel’s performance was both deficient and prejudicial.