Court green-lights execution of Missouri man who complained of long delay between conviction and sentencing

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CAPITAL CASE
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In a two-sentence order on Monday, the justices denied a stay of execution for Carman Deck, a man on Missouri’s death row who is scheduled to be executed on Tuesday. There were no public dissents from the order.

Deck’s application called on the court to determine whether his constitutional rights were violated by a long delay between his conviction and his final sentencing. He argued that confusion in the lower courts over the constitutionality of inordinate delays in sentencing, particularly in capital sentencing, must be remedied.

In 1998, Deck was convicted of murdering James and Zelma Long while robbing their home two years earlier. Over the next decade, he was sentenced three times. His first two death sentences were overturned, including in a case that reached the Supreme Court in 2005. In that case, Deck v. Missouri, the court held in an opinion by Justice Stephen Breyer that the use of visible restraints is forbidden in a capital trial’s penalty phase, just as it is during the guilt phase.

Deck’s third, and final, sentencing was delayed three years for various procedural reasons, including the discovery that a niece of the victims was working on the case in the prosecutor’s office. In 2008, a jury again sentenced him to death.

Due to the delay, his application argued, Deck’s counsel was no longer able to find or contact family members for live testimony who had previously provided mitigating evidence of substantial childhood physical and emotional abuse and frequent foster home placements. No live lay witness testimony was presented at the third sentencing trial.

Missouri disputed the relevance of this claim, stating that Deck did have lay testimony from family members in two video depositions and two written depositions read aloud into the record and that there is no evidence that live testimony would have strengthened his case. The state also argued that Deck had plenty of time to raise his claims in an earlier state habeas petition, and therefore, the Supreme Court should not intervene now.

The justices turned down Deck’s application without comment on Monday afternoon.

Also on Monday, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson rejected Deck’s application for clemency. His execution is scheduled to take place by lethal injection in Bonne Terre, Missouri, on Tuesday evening.



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