Monday, June 22, 2009

Gerald Holland Appeals From Kafka-esque Hearing

The Associated Press is reporting today the background of the death penalty habeas corpus appeal in Gerald Holland's case. Holland was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death, but the sentence was reversed because the jury reached their decision in favor of the death penalty before the sentencing phase of the trial began. (They sent a note to the judge during the break between the phases that said, "We, the jury, sentence Gerald James Holland to death." A bit hard for Holland to re-open their minds at that point.)

The case went back to Circuit Court for a jury to consider only the sentence to be imposed on Holland. The State reintroduced the facts of the crime, and Holland's lawyers tried to rebut this evidence. The defense said that the State had misrepresented the facts. But the trial judge said that the State could have, in essence, a "free shot." They could re-prove their case, but Holland couldn't try to rebut or undermine the presentation made by the State.

The case in now in Federal court on habeas corpus appeal, and the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit asked specifically for briefing on that issue. The Fifth Circuit said: "The lack of rebuttal evidence makes it much more likely that a jury would find that the state met its burden with respect to that aggravating circumstance. We believe reasonable jurists would find the resolution of this argument debatable."

The AP story, as reported by the Commercial Appeal, is here.

Y'all Politics (here) and State Street Posts (here) were nice enough to give this blogger headline credit for the two cents I gave the AP on the issue.

As the AP (correctly) quoted me:

Jim Craig, a Jackson attorney and blogger who has handled dozens of death penalty appeals, said Mississippi jurors in death penalty cases weigh aggravating factors against mitigating factors to choose between life without parole and the death penalty.

"When the state reintroduced details about the crime as aggravating facts in Gerald Holland's sentencing case, simple fairness demanded that Mr. Holland have the opportunity to rebut those facts," Craig said.

He said while a sentencing jury can't undo a conviction, "they could decide that the state's narrative of the crime wasn't totally true, and that would have affected their sentencing decision."

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