I hope I'm not stepping on anyone's toes by posting this, but as a Hoosier I felt obligated to post one of our state's wins.
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Overturning the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively reinstated the death penalty against convicted killer Joseph Corcoran.
It was the second time in just over a year the nationís highest court slapped down a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appealsí 7th Circuit, this time saying the appellate court reviewed Corcoranís case without evidence of any violation of his constitutional rights.
For now, the decision puts the death penalty back on track for Corcoran, whose case has wound its way through the state and federal courts since his 1999 Allen Superior Court conviction for the murders of four people.
According to Bryan Corbin, spokesman for the Indiana Attorney Generalís Office, the recent ruling points out the complexity of death penalty cases and safeguards in the stateís criminal justice system.
Corcoran shot and killed his brother, James Corcoran, 30; his sisterís fiancť, Robert Scott Turner, 32; and two of his brotherís friends, Timothy G. Bricker, 30, and Douglas A. Stillwell, 30, at a Bayer Avenue home in July 1997.
After the conviction, Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull sentenced Corcoran to death.
Corcoran failed to file a petition in a timely manner to have the trial court review his case, refusing to sign the paperwork because he believed he should be put to death for his crimes, court documents said.
Then in 2003, after it was determined he was a paranoid schizophrenic who understood his legal position, Gull found him capable of making the decision to refuse appeals, a decision the Indiana Supreme Court upheld.
Corcoran changed his mind in early 2005 and tried unsuccessfully to seek a trial court review of his case. He then filed a petition in federal court but changed his mind again, saying he never wanted to appeal his sentence, court documents said.
Against Corcoranís wishes at the time, the late U.S. District Judge Allen Sharp overturned the death sentence, ruling that then-Allen County Prosecutor Robert Gevers inappropriately punished Corcoran by pursuing the death penalty against Corcoran because, as a defendant, Corcoran demanded a jury trial instead of a trial by judge.
According to Sharp, the decision violated Corcoranís Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial and right to have criminal charges clearly explained.
The 7th Circuit overturned Sharpís decision in 2008, saying that it is constitutionally permissible to use the threat of more serious punishment to encourage a guilty plea.
But when the 7th Circuit issued its 2008 ruling, it dealt only with the Sixth Amendment question that Sharp had ruled on. In an October 2009 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court determined the appellate court should have addressed all of Corcoranís claims, and it sent the case back for another ruling.
In January, the 7th Circuit handed the case back to the state courts, ordering the state court to hold a resentencing hearing to correct errors it said it found in Gullís original sentencing order. The Indiana attorney general appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which reviewed the case again earlier this month.
In the seven-page ruling handed down Tuesday, the Supreme Court said the 7th Circuit erred when it said the sentencing order violated state law, which the stateís highest courts said it did not. Federal courts cannot review state court cases because of allegations of state law violations, only for violations of federal law, according to court documents.
ďThe (7th Circuitís) opinion contained no hint that it thought the violation of Indiana law it had unearthed also entailed the infringement of any federal right,Ē according to the Supreme Court opinion. ďIt was improper for the Court of Appeals to (review the case) without first concluding that a violation of federal law had been established.Ē
Corcoran may attempt to have the U.S. Supreme Court again review the case, Corbin said.
A message left for Corcoranís attorney was not returned Wednesday.http://www.journalgazette.net/article/20101111/LOCAL03/311119984/-1/LOCAL11