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May 23, 2011

Condemned Arizona inmate seeking to have entire state Supreme Court replaced

This AP article reports on a notable argument being made by an Arizona death row inmate scheduled to be executed this week.  Here are the basics:

Lawyers for an inmate set to be executed this week want the Arizona Supreme Court to withdraw his death warrant because the justices toured death row and met with prison officials.  Court papers filed Sunday also ask the entire five-member high court to step away from the case and appoint a panel of judges to hear Donald Beaty's appeals.

Beaty's lawyers wrote in their court filing that Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch and Justice Andrew Hurwitz met with Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan last month to discuss execution scheduling and protocols.  Four justices toured two prisons and the death chamber May 10.

Defense lawyers say they were not invited and found out about the visits from Beaty.  They argue the visits and discussions were improper because the justices were considering their client's case at the time, and defense attorneys were not allowed to participate.  Lawyers for the state were notified of the meetings.  The court filings call the meetings "ex parte communications" that are barred under court rules because judges are expected to rule only on information in the formal record.  Defense attorneys argue the justices should recuse themselves from the case to avoid an appearance of impropriety.

Supreme Court spokeswoman Jennifer Liewer declined to comment, saying the high court does not discuss pending matters.

The state's top death penalty prosecutor, Kent Cattani, said in an email Sunday that there was no improper communication between the judges and Ryan because Ryan is not a party to the case.  He said the discussions between Ryan and Berch were to go over scheduling and were not improper communications.  Cattani said Ryan requested that executions be scheduled for midweek to minimize overtime.  "Accordingly, Beaty's allegations of ex-parte contacts are baseless," he wrote.

Beaty, now 56, was convicted in the 1984 rape and murder of 13-year-old Christy Ann Fornoff, a case that riveted the Phoenix area.  The girl was killed while she was collecting on her newspaper route at an apartment complex where Beaty lived and worked.

May 23, 2011 at 08:10 AM | Permalink


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The defense does not know if their visit turned them against the death penalty.

I support greater judge accountability. However, this gotcha is extreme and unnecessary. A judge was removed from office, not just from the case for driving to the scene of the accident of the trial, without even speaking to anyone. The argument is that the ex parte contact will bias the helpless, easily manipulated judge without an opportunity to rebut by the other side. Plus, judges are far more likely to talk to people in authority, than to criminal elements. The judge may the most intelligent, sophisticated, experienced person in the court. This treatment as if the Virgin Empress of China, whose feet must be bound, just wastes the judge's lawyerly assets. The Rules of Evidence should be amended to allow judge investigations, until a bias can be shown.

As stated repeatedly, the public may be oppressed and poorly served by the hierarchy, but the lawyer is doubly so, and the "street" judge triply so. It now appears that members of the hierarchy itself may end up quadruply so.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 23, 2011 8:56:25 AM

Donald Beaty SCOTUS appeal rejected today (Monday, May 23). No. 10-9474

Posted by: DeanO | May 23, 2011 10:56:15 AM

DeanO, there's another one pending. Arizona should simply demand in person service and cut off all phone service to the execution. No properly served stay equals no stay . . . . .

Posted by: federalist | May 23, 2011 10:05:06 PM

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