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Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit decides one Indiana case today, a reversal in death penalty case

In Tommy R. Pruitt v. Roy Neal, Sup. (ND Ind., Miller), a 55-page opinion, Judge Tinder writes:

Tommy R. Pruitt appeals the dis-trict court’s denial of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. A jury in Indiana state court convicted Pruitt of murdering a deputy sheriff and he was sentenced to death. His petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 raises four claims: (1) he is intellectu-ally disabled and therefore categorically and constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty; (2) his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance in violation of his Sixth Amendment rights by failing to present evidence to support his claim of intellectual disability; (3) his trial counsel rendered ineffec-tive assistance by failing to investigate and present at the penalty phase mitigating evidence regarding his schizo-phrenia and its effects; and (4) the prosecutor violated Pruitt’s right to due process by reciting a poem about the death of a police officer and comparing Pruitt to notorious murderers in the closing argument of the penalty phase of trial, and appellate counsel was ineffective in failing to raise this as an error on appeal. With regard to the second ineffec-tive-assistance-of-counsel claim ((3) above), Pruitt challenges only counsel’s presentation of evidence at the penalty phase of trial; he is not asserting ineffectiveness in failing to seek a determination of guilty but mentally ill or in otherwise pre-senting mental health evidence at the guilt phase of trial.

We conclude that Pruitt has established that he is intellectually disabled and categorically ineligible for the death penalty and that trial counsel were ineffective in their investigation and presentation of evidence that Pruitt suffered from schizophrenia. We therefore reverse the district court’s judgment and remand for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion. * * *

For the foregoing reasons, we REVERSE the district court’s judgment and REMAND with instructions to grant a conditional writ vacating Pruitt’s death sentence and remanding to the State for a new penalty-phase proceeding.

[3] The conclusion that Pruitt established ineffective assistance of counsel under one of his theories makes it unnecessary for us to fully address his other theories. Nonetheless, we do not think that trial counsel rendered constitutionally ineffective assistance in their investigation and presentation of evidence of Pruitt’s intellectual disability or in failing to object to alleged improper prosecutorial argument at trial. Nor do we think that appellate counsel was constitutionally ineffective in not raising an inef-fective-assistance claim based on trial counsel’s failure to object to the alleged prosecutorial misconduct.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 2, 2015 03:20 PM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions