"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Supreme Court vacates Oklahoma inmate's death sentence

US Supreme Court
The United States Supreme Court vacated an Oklahoma inmate's death sentence, remanding it back for further court proceedings, the court announced Tuesday.

Bosse was convicted and given 3 death sentences for the 2010 deaths of 25-year-old Katrina Griffin, 8-year-old Christian Griffin and 6-year-old Chasity Hammer. Bosse was also convicted of arson for burning the family's mobile home.

In his appeal Bosse argued that the testimony of 3 of the victim's family members recommending the death penalty violated his 8th amendment rights. In a 1987 case, Booth v. Maryland, the Supreme Court held that a jury cannot consider victim impact statements that do not "relate directly to the circumstances of the crime." That case was reconsidered by the Court in 1991 in Payne v. Tennessee, and reversed itself on parts of its findings, but not all.

In its statement, the Supreme Court said the state court erred in ruling that because it reversed part of the Booth decision that all of the case was reversed.

"Booth also held that the admission of a victim's family members' characterizations and opinions about the crime, the defendant, and the appropriate sentence violates the Eighth Amendment,' but no such evidence was presented in Payne, so the Court had no occasion to reconsider that aspect of the decision," the decision reads.

Evidence showed Katrina Griffin and Christian Griffin were stabbed to death and Chasity Hammer died of smoke inhalation and burns. Bosse was arrested after investigators learned he had pawned items taken from the home. Bosse's appeal included claims of improper evidence, prosecutorial misconduct, ineffective defense counsel, improper jury instructions and improper admission of photos of the victims.

Source: Fox news, October 12, 2016

Supreme Court overturns death sentence in Oklahoma triple murder

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday reversed the death penalty of an Oklahoma man convicted of killing a woman and her 2 children.

The high court ruled that the judge in the case should not have allowed relatives of the victims to tell the jury a death sentence was proper.

Shaun Michael Bosse was convicted of 3 counts of 1st-degree murder in the 2010 killings in McClain County of Katrina Griffin and her children, Christian and Chastity.

Bosse's attorney objected during the sentencing phase when a prosecutor asked Griffin's relatives to recommend a sentence to the jury, according to the Supreme Court opinion released Tuesday.

In an unsigned opinion, the justices pointed to a 1987 Supreme Court ruling that the Eighth Amendment "prohibits a capital sentencing jury from considering victim impact evidence" that does not "relate directly to the circumstances of the crime."

Source: Tulsa World, October 12, 2016

Some death row inmates have been executed despite same error in their cases; one resentenced to life

Over and over, Oklahoma death row inmates have raised the same issue.

They've complained about the fairness of their trials, saying relatives of murder victims should not have been allowed to ask jurors to impose the death penalty.

Over and over, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has rejected those arguments.

Federal judges, though, over and over have agreed with the inmates. One murderer won a resentencing in 2013 because of the issue. Other murderers have been executed anyway, after federal judges ruled the error to be harmless. A few murderers still are hoping for relief on that issue.

Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has been wrong all along. Justices stated such victim impact evidence is banned because of the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Justices admonished the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, saying the state court remains bound by a 1987 ruling prohibiting "characterizations and opinions from a victim's family members about the crime, the defendant, and the appropriate sentence unless this Court reconsiders that ban."

The ruling means the Court of Criminal Appeals will have to reconsider the issue in the case of death row inmate Shaun Michael Bosse.

Bosse, 33, of Blanchard, was convicted of murdering a woman and her two children in 2010 inside a mobile home near Dibble. He had briefly dated the woman. At his trial, 3 victim impact witnesses, the woman's father, stepmother and mother, asked the jury to sentence him to death.

McClain County District Attorney Greg Mashburn said the Court of Criminal Appeals, hopefully, will find the error harmless and uphold the death sentence.

"Anytime we've done it, we've been very careful not to expound and let them ... run on and on about it," Mashburn said. "The times it has actually become a problem is when you've let the victim's family kind of roll on about it."

The prosecutor pointed out that Oklahoma law specifically allows such victim impact testimony. He said he won't be asking victim's relatives for their opinions on punishment anymore because of the Supreme Court ruling.

"No, there's no way, now that the Supreme Court has specifically addressed it," Mashburn said. "Why take the chance? Although I really believe the jury should hear that. That's my personal opinion. The jury needs to know. But you've also got to follow the law."

New sentencing

Winning a new sentencing on the issue was Rocky Eugene Dodd, who killed his next-door neighbors in 1994 in Edmond. The victims' throats were slashed.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2013 ordered that Dodd be resentenced because 7 witnesses had called during his trial for his execution.

"This presentation of victim requests for the death penalty was not a one-off or a mere aside. It was a drumbeat," the federal appeals court wrote. "We have found 10 decisions in which we decided that such testimony was harmless. ... This case is different. It is not just the sheer volume of such testimony. This was also a significantly weaker case for the death penalty."

Dodd, now 48, was resentenced by a judge in 2014 to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The new sentence was the outcome of an agreement with prosecutors which required him not to appeal any further.

Other cases

Among those who were executed despite the same issue was Clayton Lockett, who shot a 19-year-old woman and watched as 2 accomplices buried her alive in rural Kay County in 1999. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found victim impact testimony at his trial unconstitutional but harmless.

Problems during Lockett's 2014 execution led to national scrutiny and widespread criticism of the death penalty process in Oklahoma.

Among those still raising the issue is Kevin Ray Underwood, 36, who is on death row for killing a 10-year-old Purcell girl in 2006 because of his cannibalistic fantasies.

The grocery store employee admitted that he killed a neighbor, Jamie Rose Bolin, tried to have sex with her body and used a dagger to try to remove her head. He said he became disgusted with himself and did not eat any of the body.

He told an FBI agent, "I'm going to burn in hell."

The girl's body was found in a large, blue taped-shut plastic tub in the bottom of the bedroom closet of Underwood's apartment.

At trial, the girl's parents asked jurors for the death penalty.

Source: The Oklahoman, October 12, 2016

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