Capital Case Roundup — Death Penalty Court Decisions the Week of February 222021

NEWS (2/25/21) — Alabama: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit has denied habeas relief for Alabama death-row prisoner Charles Clark, who the trial court had sentenced to death based upon a non-unanimous jury sentencing vote. Clark had argued that the trial court improperly ordered that he be shackled during the trial, without an adequate justification and without placing the reasons for shackling him on the record. His trial counsel had waived the claim by failing to object and Clark argued that this failure constituted ineffective assistance of counsel. At least two of the jurors had seen Clark in shackles during the trial.

The appeals court refused to review Clark’s ineffectiveness claim, asserting that the ineffectiveness claim had also been waived when Clark’s post-conviction counsel orally abandoned the claim before the evidentiary hearing in his case. Citing what it characterized as “overwhelming evidence” of guilt, the circuit court said Clark had proven that he suffered prejudice sufficient to overcome his post-conviction counsel’s procedural default.

NEWS (2/25/21) — Indiana: An evenly divided Indiana Supreme Court has upheld a trial court order requiring the Indiana Department of Corrections (IDOC) to release documents concerning its efforts to obtain lethal injection drugs and ordering the department to pay more than a half million dollars in attorney fees for its bad faith non-compliance with the state’s public records act.

Under court rules, the 2-2 decision let stand the lower court order in the case. In July 2019, a Marion County trial judge ruled that the records were discoverable under the state’s Access to Public Records Act and directed IDOC to produce the records to Washington-based lawyer A. Katherine Toomey. Citing “egregious” misconduct by state prison officials who had tried to evade a prior court order to produce the records, the trial court also awarded Toomey $538,000 in attorney fees.

NEWS (2/24/21) — Texas: The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has stayed the execution of Ramiro Ibarra, whom the state had scheduled to be put to death on March 4, 2021. The appeals court remanded Ibarra’s case to the trial court to permit him to litigate claims that he is intellectually disabled, and that new DNA science shows the evidence presented against him at trial was unreliable.