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Texas Should Not Have Executed Robert Pruett

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Update: Robert Pruett was executed by lethal injection on Thursday.
Robert Pruett is scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas Thursday. He has never had a chance to live outside a prison as an adult. Taking his life is a senseless wrong that shows how badly the justice system fails juveniles.
Mr. Pruett was 15 years old when he last saw the outside world, after being arrested as an accomplice to a murder committed by his own father. Now 38, having been convicted of a murder while incarcerated, he will be put to death. At a time when the Supreme Court has begun to recognize excessive punishments for juveniles as unjust, Mr. Pruett’s case shows how young lives can be destroyed by a justice system that refuses to give second chances.
Mr. Pruett’s father, Sam Pruett, spent much of Mr. Pruett’s early childhood in prison. Mr. Pruett and his three siblings were raised in various trailer parks by his mother, who he has said used drugs heavily and often struggled to feed the children. Wh…

Justices to Consider Scope of Habeas Review in Death Penalty Appeals

SCOTUS
The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to weigh into the issue of which prior state court rulings a federal court should evaluate when deciding the merits of a condemned inmate's appeal.

The case involves Marion Wilson Jr., a Georgia inmate, who, along with co-defendant Robert Earl Butts, was sentenced to death for the 1996 killing of state prison guard Donovan Parks.

The 2 men had approached Parks in a Milledgeville, Ga. Wal-Mart parking lot and asked him for a ride. Parks invited them into his car, but a short time later, they ordered him to pull over to the side of a residential street, where they killed him with a sawed-off shotgun blast to the head.

After a jury trial, Wilson was convicted of malice murder, felony murder, armed robbery, hijacking a motor vehicle, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.

The jury later came back and sentenced him to death for the murder, finding as a statutory aggravating circumstance that Wilson killed Parks while engaged in the commission of an armed robbery.

The sentence was later affirmed by a Georgia superior court judge and the state Supreme Court.

Wilson appealed his sentence to the federal court in Atlanta, and after failing to have it overturned there, asked the 11th Circuit to intervene.

But that's where things got complicated.

The appeals court had to decide which of 2 lower court rulings it would consider when deciding the merits of Wilson's appeal: the short, summary opinion of the Georgia Supreme Court, or the far more detailed ruling handed down by the superior court judge.

Lawyers for Wilson and the state attorney general's office both argued the panel they should give the most weight to the superior court ruling, which they said grew out of hearings and after the judge had reviewed the evidence and heard testimony in the case.

Rather than simply cede the point in the face of a unified defense and prosecution, the 11th Circuit took the unusual step of appointing Adam Mortara, a Chicago attorney who had not previously been involved in the case, to argue in favor of relying on the Supreme Court summary.

In Aug. 2016, a sharply divided 11th Circuit voted 6-5 in Mortara's favor.

Writing for the majority, U.S. Circuit William Pryor Jr., who is also a commissioner on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, said that to contend the Supreme Court's denial of Wilson's appeal was not "an adjudication on the merits is to suggest that the elaborate procedures of the Georgia courts are a sham."

"We refuse to endorse that suggestion," Pryor said.

Wilson's attorneys filed their petition for a writ of certiorari 3 months later.

As is its custom, the U.S. Supreme Court did not explain its rationale for taking up the case. However, the outcome of their decision could make it more difficult for death-row inmates to persuade federal appeals courts to overturn their capital sentences.

The justices also invited Mortara to brief and argue, as amicus curiae, in support of the 11th Circuit's decision.

Source: Courthouse News, February 28, 2017

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