Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Panel Revives Death Sentence for Man Who Pled Guilty to Killings
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A man who pled guilty to killing his ex-girlfriend’s brother-in-law and two nieces after she spurned him, then later claimed that the plea should not have been accepted because he was mentally incompetent, had his death sentence reinstated by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday.
U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder ruled three years ago that Ronald Deere received ineffective assistance of counsel from Glenn S. Jones, then a Riverside deputy public defender. Jones, the judge said, should not have allowed Deere to plead guilty without first asking for a competency hearing.
A divided Ninth Circuit panel, however, said that even if Jones was deficient in not asking for a hearing, there was no prejudice because the record shows that Deere would have been found competent.
Jones spent 16 years in the Public Defender’s Office before being named a court commissioner in 1990. State Bar records show that he resigned, with no disciplinary charges pending, in 1999.
Deere admitted the fatal 1982 shootings of Donald L. Davis and Davis’ daughters, Michelle, 7, and Melissa, 2, in Davis’ trailer in Blythe. Davis was married to the sister of Cindy Gleason, and police said Deere had threatened to kill her entire family if she ever left him.
Then-Riverside Superior Court Judge Fred Metheny accepted his plea of guilty, and instructed Jones to present no mitigating evidence. Metheny, who said he considered mitigating evidence presented at an earlier hearing to determine whether the killings constituted first or second degree murder, imposed the death sentence.
The state Supreme Court upheld the plea and affirmed the convictions, but said the failure to present mitigating evidence, although at the defendant’s express instruction, constituted ineffective assistance. Deere then waived his right to a jury trial for the new penalty phase, and Metheny again pronounced the death sentence, after a hearing at which Deere again stated he wanted to die.
Multiple Personalities Claimed
The Supreme Court affirmed the new sentence in 1991. His appellate counsel sought review in the U.S. Supreme Court, and later habeas corpus relief, saying Deere had multiple personalities and had “an overpowering desire to die” but lacked the competence to waive his rights and had fully authorized further efforts to save his life.
Judge Barry Silverman, writing yesterday for the Ninth Circuit, said there was no reasonable probability the defendant would have been found incompetent to plead guilty in 1982, or to waive jury trial in 1986. He cited the reports of mental health experts who examined him prior to the plea; the comments of the judge, prosecutors, and defense counsel at the time; the planning and calculation that went into the crimes; the “articulate, repentant, and logical” responses he gave in entering the plea; and the rationality of his decision to plead guilty based on his “great remorse for his offenses,” and the state Supreme Court put it.
Silverman also rejected the claim that Snyder should have ordered an evidentiary hearing into claims, based on declarations and news reports, that Metheny—who is now deceased—may have been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease at the time of the 1986 penalty phase trial. No one raised that issue at the time, Silverman noted, and the only proof offered to support the claim now consists of “anecdotes recounted by a grand total of three lawyers, anecdotes that are either hearsay, or that do not shed light on Judge Metheny’s mental status in 1986, or that reveal no more than eccentricity as distinguished from dementia.”
Judge Johnnie Rawlinson concurred, but Judge William Fletcher dissented, arguing that Snyder should have ordered a hearing on whether Metheny was mentally competent in 1986 and on whether Jones was ineffective in not challenging Metheny as the judge for the penalty phase trial, given that he had already sentenced the defendant to death.
Fletcher also said Jones was ineffective in failing to investigate the competence issue at the time of the plea.
The case is Deere v. Cullen, 10-99013.
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company