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December 22, 2009

"Family Reluctantly Accepts Plea Bargain That Spares A Killer's Life"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting local story that tells the tale of what sometimes happens after a state death sentence is reversed by a federal habeas court.  Here are some of the details:

He committed one of Cleveland's most notorious murders, but Monday, a condemned killer escaped the death penalty.  The saga began in March 1985, when 12-year-old Mario Trevino was found beaten to death on Cleveland's near west side.

Police arrested 22-year-old Alfred Morales and he confessed to the crime. Morales, who called himself the demon of darkness, told investigators he killed young Mario as revenge against the boy's family because his sister had refused to date Morales, and his brother refused to give Morales an alibi for an unrelated crime he was accused of.

Aldred Morales was sentenced to death, and his crime would continue to haunt those who loved Mario Trevino....

Fast forward 24 years, Alfred Morales and his appellate attorney convince a federal court that he received inadequate counsel during his trial.   The appeals court threw out the death sentence, and ordered a new penalty phase of Morales' trial, ruling that among other things his original lawyer did not tell the jury about his alcohol abuse or the difficulties he suffered as a Native American child. 

But Monday, Cuyahoga County prosecutors struck a deal with Alfred Morales, agreeing to drop the possibility of the death penalty. In exchange, Morales must serve at least 30 more years in prison and agrees to give up his right to further appeals.  The victim's sister, Elsa Trevino, tells Fox 8 "it's absolutely not what the family wanted, but looking at the way the judicial system works, the liberals out there, I think we took the route we had to take."

His life spared, Morales addressed the Trevino family 24 years after killing Mario. He told them "I think at this point, there's nothing i can say that will ease the pain and suffering that I caused this family, the only thing that I can say is that I hope they find it in their heart to forgive me for what I did."

The Trevino family says justice for Mario will ultimately come from a higher court. Jesse Trevino told us "I believe in the hereafter, you know and it's in God's hands and he will have to face him and then I believe he will burn in hell."

December 22, 2009 at 01:23 PM | Permalink


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How is a sentence of death overturned after 24 years. Is there no limit to the appeal process or to the infinite ways counsel can be declared inadequate.

In most states, it appears we have a de facto moratorium on the death penalty.

Posted by: mjs | Dec 22, 2009 2:41:21 PM

mjs, the sentence was actually overturned 22 years later, but he was re-sentenced 24 year later. And here's how it happened, as explained in the Sixth Circuit's opinion, 507 F.3d 916:

* Crime was committed in March 1985.

1) State trial & sentencing: Dec. 1985

("trial began on December 2, 1985. ... The guilt phase of Morales's trial lasted until December 18, 1985. ... On the following day, with the consent of counsel for the parties, the same jury convened for the penalty phase of the trial.").

2) state direct appeal: Jan. 1986 - ?

("The Ohio Court of Appeals and Ohio Supreme Court affirmed the convictions and sentences, and the United States Supreme Court denied Morales's petition for a writ of certiorari.")

3) state post-conviction appeals: ? - Dec. 1996

("The Ohio Supreme Court then granted a stay of execution to allow Morales to pursue state post-conviction relief, which was subsequently denied.")

4) federal post-conviction district court proceedings: Dec. 1996 - May 2000

"On December 9, 1996, Morales petitioned the district court for a writ of habeas corpus. The district court denied that petition on March 29, 2000. Morales then filed a motion to alter or amend the district court's judgment, which motion was granted in part on May 15, 2000, on the ground that Petitioner's trial counsel rendered constitutionally ineffective assistance by failing to conduct an adequate investigation of potentially mitigating evidence. The district court declined to issue a certificate of appealability.")

5) federal post-conviction appellate process: May 2000 - ?

("The state filed a notice of appeal on May 25, 2000, challenging the grant of habeas relief. Morales cross-appealed on June 13, 2000, from the portion of the district court's order partially denying the habeas petition. We then remanded this case to the district court for reconsideration of the certificate of appealability.")

6) Remand to federal district court: ? - Dec. 2004

("On remand, the district court certified two issues ... (Dec. 4, 2003 Dist. Ct. Order).")

7) Federal appeal of remand proceedings: Dec. 2004 - Nov. 2007

("On August 19, 2005, we declined to certify any additional claims" and the Sixth Circuit issued its opinion on Nov. 2, 2007).

Basically, it took 11 years to complete the state proceedings (Dec. 1985 to Dec. 1996) and 11 years to complete the federal proceedings (Dec. 1996 to Nov. 2007).

The time period would have been shortened had the district court initially issued a COA. That would have avoided the remand to the district court.

Posted by: DEJ | Dec 22, 2009 4:50:04 PM

mjs --

This is a particularly nauseating illustration of gaming the system. The killer dragged this out literally for a generation.

At some point, maybe ten or twelve years, it seems to me that a killer should only be able to litigate his sentence based on an established likelihood that he is factually innocent. This ineffective assistance business has become a farce, partly because it can be raised so late as to deny the state any realistic chance of rebuttal, and partly because what now gets counted as "ineffective assistance" is absurd. It's typically counsel's failure to put on some sob story about how the 40 year old killer was neglected as an 8 year old, as if that could excuse his adult behavior no matter how grotesque. Good grief.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 22, 2009 10:30:33 PM

I understand the criticism of the delay. The readers do not understand the real reason. It is not for the killer's life. It is for the lawyer's rent. The killer's legal interest is a pretext. Because a pretext is a false use of the law, it represents a type of fraud against the government for lawyer fees. That justifies arresting all lawyers involved, including prosecutors and judges, for a false claim against the respective government. This delay is similar to the Russian Mafia's phony clinic's billing Medicare for a leg for a patient that was not seen, and for a leg that never existed.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 23, 2009 8:11:37 AM

You know, when the State is allowed to prequalify the venire panel regarding the death penalty--and challenge for cause those who are opposed--I have no problem with the defense bar using its own gaming system to stack the deck. You reap what you sow. What's good for the goose is just as good for the gander.

Posted by: Mark # 1 | Dec 23, 2009 2:16:53 PM

Mark # 1 --

What you have no problem with is the killer's escaping the death penalty, a punishment due him under the law and under the jury's unanimous judgment.

If, on the other hand, you support the death penalty -- as, for example, O'Connor, Powell, Frankfurter and a hundred other Supreme Court Justices did (not to mention Obama and two thirds of the electorate) -- I will stand to be corrected.

Do you?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 23, 2009 3:54:09 PM

Mark: You are a left wing freak. Perhaps, you have inside information and can honestly answer this question. Isn't all this procedure to generate jobs? The defendant is a fungible commodity, and a pretext to the lawyer. I do not distinguish between lawyers who support or oppose the death penalty, nor with judges who allow these games. Both are making decent livings defrauding the taxpayer.

As S.cotus once said, they are all friends. They get together afterwards, and drink to the stupidity of the public.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 23, 2009 6:02:07 PM


Where in the Constitution does it say that a jury consists of two thirds of one's peers?

Posted by: George | Dec 24, 2009 1:40:57 PM

George --

"Where in the Constitution does it say that a jury consists of two thirds of one's peers?"

Where in my post did I say that a jury consists of two thirds of one's peers?

What I said was that two thirds of the electorate favors the death penalty. You don't, and couldn't, dispute that.

If you're in the small minority still fretting that we waxed Timmy McVeigh, et al., I have a suggestion: Switch sides.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 28, 2009 1:16:10 PM

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