The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has granted an appeal to California’s longest-serving death-row inmate, Douglas Stankewitz. The appeal entitles Stankewitz to a new penalty phase trial due to ineffective counsel.
Stankewitz was convicted and sentenced to death in 1978 for murdering Theresa Greybeal. The California Supreme Court reversed that conviction upon automatic appeal because the trial court failed to address a conflict between Stankewitz and his public defender. Before Stankewitz’s second trial, the trial court found that a conflict did exist between Stankewitz and his public defender, and appointed Stankewitz private counsel. Stankewitz was convicted and sentenced to death again.
After the California Supreme Court rejected Stankewitz’s state post conviction challenges, Stankewitz filed a petition in federal court, raising several challenges to the guilt and penalty phases of his trial, including ineffective counsel from his private counsel. According to Stankewitz, his private counsel was so fixated on convincing jurors of the potential for Stankewitz to be redeemed through God that his counsel failed to present a potentially-successful case in mitigation based on the Stankewitz’s “horrifying childhood.” Specifically, the private counsel should have presented evidence that Stankewitz’s mother subjected him to beatings and electronic shocks at a young age, and that he had a history of mental illness, (possibly related to fetal alcohol syndrome and childhood abuse), and substance abuse.
The district court denied the petition in its entirety without holding an evidentiary hearing as to any of Stankewitz’s claims. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court with respect to Stankewitz’s guilt-phase challenges, but reversed with respect to Stankewitz’s claim that his private counsel gave him ineffective counsel during the penalty phase of Stankewitz’s trial by failing to investigate and present available
Next week, California voters will vote on Proposition 34 which would repeal the death penalty in California.
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