Friday, April 9, 2004
Hearing Ordered on Death Row Inmate’s Ineffective Assistance Claim
Ninth Circuit Says Former Municipal Court Judge Failed to Present Mitigating Evidence
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
A federal district judge in Fresno must hold an evidentiary hearing on a Death Row inmate’s claim that his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to present mitigating evidence, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.
Lawyers for Douglas Stankewitz claim that Hugh Goodwin, the now-retired Fresno attorney who represented Stankewitz at his 1983 trial, was so fixated on trying to convince jurors of the potential for redemption through God that he failed to present a potentially successful case in mitigation based on the defendant’s horrifying childhood.
Goodwin, a former Fresno Municipal Court judge, was admonished by the Commission on Judicial Performance for making church attendance a probation condition for some defendants and giving others the option of attending church instead of going to prison. A newspaper story quoted him as calling the commission “an instrument of Satan” following the discipline.
Goodwin was defeated for re-election in 1978 and returned to practicing law in Fresno. Among his clients was Troy Lee Jones, who was sentenced to death for murder but was freed in 1996 after serving 14 years.
Prosecutors in Merced County decided not to retry Jones after the state Supreme Court ruled that Goodwin had provided ineffective assistance.
Goodwin took inactive status in 1996 at age 73, after more than 46 years as a lawyer and judge.
Stankewitz, who came within one week of being executed in 1991, was convicted twice of the 1978 killing of Theresa Graybeal, 22, of Modesto.
A companion, testifying under grant of immunity, said Stankewitz and friends kidnapped Graybeal and stole her car from a Manteca parking lot. After forcing Graybeal to drive them to the Fresno area, he shot her, turned to his companions and said, “Did I drop her, or did I drop her?,” the witness testified.
His first conviction and death sentence were set aside by the state Supreme Court because he had not been granted a mental competency hearing. When the case was sent back to the Superior Court, the judge ruled that the public defender, who had represented him at the first trial, had a conflict of interest and appointed Goodwin to represent him.
The second conviction and sentence were upheld by the state high court in July 1990.
His current attorneys, Nicholas Arguimbau of Fairfax and Katherine L. Hart of Fresno, argued that Goodwin conducted a perfunctory investigation for the penalty phase.
A competent defense, they said, would have included presentation of evidence that Stankewitz was placed in a foster home at age six after suffering beatings and electric shocks administered by his mother, who lost her parental rights.
History of Mental Illness
Testimony also should have been presented regarding the defendant’s history of mental illness, possibly related to fetal alcohol syndrome and childhood abuse, and substance abuse, as well as the fact that he had binged on alcohol, heroin, and methamphetamine, and had not slept, for at least 48 hours before the murder, the attorneys argued.
The government’s response included a declaration from Goodwin in which he said that Stankewitz was opposed to any penalty phase defense at all, and in particular to any defense that involved the use of his family as witnesses for the use of expert witnesses. The government also argued that a better defense would not have changed the outcome in light of the overwhelming evidence of aggravating circumstances, including nine other episodes of criminal violence in which the defendant had participated.
U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii of the Eastern District of California agreed, and denied Stankewitz’s habeas corpus petition without hearing testimony. But Judge Raymond C. Fisher, writing yesterday for the Ninth Circuit, said that was an abuse of discretion.
“Although the prosecution presented a strong case, we conclude that there was a reasonable probability that the jury would not have sentenced Stankewitz to death had it been presented with the evidence of the numerous deprivations and abuses Stankewitz alleges that he suffered for most of the 19 years he lived prior to the killing,” Fisher wrote. “....Had the jury been able to place Stankewitz’s life history on the mitigating side of the scale, there is a reasonable probability that at least one juror would have struck a different balance.”
Judges Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain and Jay S. Bybee concurred in the opinion.
The case is Stankewitz v. Woodford, 01-99022.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company