Supreme Court examines whether two death row inmates get new hearings | Cronkite news


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The Supreme Court has agreed to hear Arizona’s appeal against a federal circuit court ruling that two death row inmates should get new hearings for evidence their lawyers failed to present in their trial initial decades ago. (Photo courtesy of Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, and Reintegration)

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court has said it will consider whether two Arizona death row inmates should get new hearings into allegations that lawyers who represented them decades ago failed to present evidence that could have spare them.

A federal appeals court has agreed that David Ramirez’s attorney failed to present evidence of a “truly deplorable” childhood and intellectual disability during his trial for the murder of his girlfriend and his father. daughter in 1989.

He also said Barry Lee Jones’ attorney failed to present medical evidence that could have called into question his role in the 1994 murder of his girlfriend’s 4-year-old daughter.

But the Arizona attorney general’s office appealed, saying the US Circuit’s 9th Court of Appeals rulings were “Precisely the opposite” a federal law that severely limits such challenges after the fact. The High Court on Monday agreed to hear consolidated cases at term which begins in October.

A spokesperson said Attorney General Mark Brnovich welcomed the court’s decision to hear the cases, saying “those who commit the ultimate crimes deserve the ultimate punishment.”

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“Too often, we focus on the convicted killers in these cases, while the families of the victims continue to suffer as justice is still delayed,” said Katie Conner, spokesperson for Brnovich.

An Arizona federal public defender said his office was “disappointed” that the Supreme Court had agreed to hear the case, but was “confident that it will achieve the right results on the merits.”

“As the uniform decisions of appellate courts have recognized, ineffective support of a lawyer’s claims depends on the development of additional evidence outside of a trial record,” said Dale Baich, Federal Public Defender assistant. “Adopting the state’s position in this case would prevent this development, misinterpret the relevant legislative language and reverse the established precedent of the Supreme Court.”

In his memory Urging the Supreme Court to dismiss the case, defense attorneys said the state was trying “to” fabricate a problem where it doesn’t exist …. both cases were dealt with correctly and straightforwardly ”by the lower courts.

The two crimes date back three decades. But the latest turning point in each case dates back to 2019, when the circuit court ruled separately in favor of the detainees based on a 2012 Supreme Court ruling that created a narrow exception to the anti-terrorism law and the effective death penalty. (AEDPA). This law has made it more difficult for federal courts to reopen cases that have been decided by state courts.

Ramirez was convicted for May 25, 1989, murder of his girlfriend, Mary Gortarez, and his 15-year-old daughter in the girlfriend’s apartment in Phoenix.

Police, who were called to the apartment after neighbors reported wrestling noises, found Ramirez drunk and covered in blood inside the apartment and both victims died. Gortarez was stabbed 18 times and her daughter suffered 15 stab wounds, in addition to evidence that she was sexually assaulted by Ramirez before she died. Neither victim died immediately, according to records.

David Ramirez has been on death row for over 30 years for the stabbing murders of Mary Gortarez and her 15-year-old daughter in their Phoenix apartment in 1989. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Corrections Arizona Rehabilitation and Reintegration Program)

Ramirez was convicted in 1990 of two counts of first degree murder and sentenced to death after the judge did not find any mitigating circumstances that outweighed the aggravating circumstances of multiple murders committed in a “heinous, cruel or depraved” manner.

Jones was convicted in connection with the death of his girlfriend’s 4-year-old daughter, who was pronounced dead upon arrival at Kino Community Hospital in Tucson early in the morning of May 2, 1994. Court documents indicate the cause of death was was determined to be “a laceration of the small intestine due to blunt abdominal trauma.” The girl also had injuries to her left scalp and vagina, and internal and external bruising was noted.

Witnesses said they saw the girl in Jones’ care in the hours leading up to her death, and some said they saw him beat her that afternoon.

Jones was charged with murder, sexual assault and three counts of child abuse and convicted on all counts in April 1995. Despite a troubled family history, he was sentenced to death as a result of the age of the victim and the “particularly cruel” nature of the murder.

In subsequent appeals, Jones and Ramirez argued that their convictions were based on failure to provide evidence at trial that could have changed the outcome of their case.

Ramirez claims his trial attorney failed to present evidence of the accused’s low IQ and a history of abuse, sexual assault, neglect and developmental issues that even a dissenting judge said pointed out ” really deplorable conditions of his education ”.

Jones said her lawyer failed to produce expert witnesses who said the injuries that killed the girl could have been inflicted days before her death, not just during the hours she was in her care.

Separate panels of three 9th Circuit judges have agreed, ruling Jones should have a new trial and Ramirez should have a chance to develop evidence that his lawyer failed him. The court rejected a request for reconsideration of the decisions, which led to strong dissent of eight circuit judges who accused the committees of creating a “new exception made by the judges to … strict limitations on the expansion of the evidentiary record” in such cases.

Barry Lee Jones has been on death row since 1995 for the sexual assault and murder of his girlfriend’s 4-year-old in Tucson. (Photo courtesy of Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, and Reintegration)

The attorney general’s office agreed with the dissent, arguing that the AEDPA prohibits a federal court from considering evidence outside the state’s judicial record in a case, except in very limited circumstances, which do not do not apply in these cases.

Unless the appeals court is overturned, Brnovich’s office said, states “will be inundated with resource-intensive litigation, resulting in even more delays and expense” in trials. Thirteen states filed a brief in support of Arizona’s position.

But Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said other courts agree that defendants should be allowed to raise arguments of poor legal representation.

“Every circuit court in the country that has addressed this issue has said that if the post-conviction lawyer is ineffective, and because of that, the issue is not properly argued in a state court, you can present new facts on this issue when you’re in federal court, ”Dunham said Tuesday.

Dunham said that since the passage of the AEDPA in 1996, there have been numerous cases in which federal judges believed the accused had been unconstitutionally convicted or sentenced to death, but were powerless to act.

“The AEDPA has indisputably led to the execution of people who are convicted and sentenced to death unconstitutionally, there is no doubt about that,” Dunham said.

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