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Friday, May 30, 2008

Ind. Decisions - "Ind. high court considers jury selection in Ward appeal"

Yesterday's oral arguments before the Supreme Court in the direct appeal case of Roy Lee Ward v. State are the subject of a story today in the Evansville Courier & Press reported by Bryan Corbin. Some quotes:

Stacy Payne's name barely was mentioned Thursday as the Indiana Supreme Court considered an appeal by her admitted killer.

The justices are being asked to determine if Roy Lee Ward's death sentence for raping and murdering the Spencer County teen should stand, or if the case should be sent back to the trial court for resentencing.

Ward's attorneys do not dispute that Ward killed Payne on July 11, 2001, and he pleaded guilty to the charges. * * *

At issue in the appeal is the fairness of the jury selection process in the sentencing phase of his 2007 trial.

Ward, now 35, had been found guilty and sentenced to death in Payne's slaying, but the Indiana Supreme Court reversed that conviction in 2004 and ordered a new trial, finding the Spencer County jurors had been tainted by pretrial publicity.

The 2007 trial was heard by jurors from Clay County in west central Indiana, with Vanderburgh County Superior Court Judge Robert J. Pigman presiding.

All that was left for the jury to decide was whether he should be sentenced to death, life in prison or a specific prison term.

The second jury deliberated less than 45 minutes before returning a unanimous verdict of death, and Pigman ordered the death sentence.

Ward's attorney, Steven Ripstra, argued Thursday that the Clay County jurors should have been questioned individually, with other potential jurors out of the room, so that one person's answers wouldn't be overheard and influence the next person's.

That is how the two-day jury selection process started, Ripstra said, but by the end of the process, the 120 prospective jurors were lumped into groups of 10 to 20, he said. That prevented Ward from getting a fair retrial, Ripstra contended.

Ripstra and Ward's other attorney, Lorinda Meier Youngcourt, theorized that if jury selection had continued longer, different jurors might have been selected, and they might have decided on a different sentence.

Arguing for the prosecution, deputy state attorney general James B. Martin said Ward's jury was selected fairly.

"Ward got what he wanted: He got another county (Clay), he got a fair trial," Martin told the supreme court. "The main point is, these (defense) claims are without merit." * * *

Ward's death sentence means he receives an automatic appeal before the Indiana Supreme Court. This is the first step in what is likely to be a lengthy appellate process, however. Death sentences can be appealed through the state courts and the federal court system, which typically means years can elapse before an execution is carried out.

Besides jury selection, Ward's defense team is raising several other grounds for appeal. They contend Clay County jurors should not have been shown gruesome autopsy photographs and that evidence collected from Ward during a police search should not have been allowed.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 30, 2008 08:19 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions