Monday, December 19, 2005
Ninth Circuit Denies En Banc Rehearings in Ricky Lee Earp Case
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday left standing a ruling that granted a new habeas corpus hearing to a California death row inmate, but rejected his claim that a conflict of interest resulting from a romance between the defendant and his trial lawyer deprived him of his constitutional right to counsel.
The court, in a brief order, said no active judge had asked for a vote on the en banc rehearing petitions filed by both the defendant, Ricky Lee Earp, and the attorney general. Either side could still ask for review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The panel agreed with U.S. District Judge Manuel Real of the Central District of California, who declared that “[b]eing in love is not a conflict” when he denied Earp’s petition for writ of habeas corpus. Earp became involved with his trial lawyer, Adrienne Dell, during his trial and married her in 1993.
The marriage ended in 2000. Dell now practices in San Jose.
The judges reversed Real’s decision in part, granting Earp an evidentiary hearing on his claims that the prosecution committed misconduct by intimidating a witness who would otherwise have given favorable testimony at a hearing on Earp’s motion for a new trial, and that his defense team conducted an inadequate investigation into evidence of brain damage that could have been used as a mitigating factor in the penalty phase.
In a modified opinion Friday, Judge Richard Tallman explained that the Supreme Court has not held an attorney-client conflict to be a constitutional violation, other than in the context of concurrent representation of competing interests.
Ninth Circuit precedent, Tallman acknowledged, takes a broader view. But the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 precludes the court from applying those cases in habeas corpus review of a state conviction, the judge explained.
Earp, of Palmdale, was sentenced to death by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Cohen for raping and murdering the 18-month-old child of a friendís daughter. The California Supreme Court affirmed the sentence in 1999, rejecting arguments that the trial judge had unfairly undermined defense efforts to show another man was the killer.
Earp, then 26, was living with his girlfriend at her house in the Antelope Valley in August 1988. Several days after a friend left her daughter, Amanda Doshier, in the care of Earp and his girlfriend, a firefighter responding to a radio call found the girl unconscious and not breathing at the bottom of a stairway.
She died in a hospital 2 days later of injuries caused by blows to the head and violent shaking. A pathologist testified there were bruises and tears in the genital and rectal areas.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company