9th Circuit Court of Appeals Considers Habeas Corpus Petition in Murder Case

The Recorder reported on the status of convicted killer Ronald Deere’s habeas corpus petition pending before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The situation is a reminder of the complexity of the criminal justice system, the long-time frames involved in some cases, and the critical nature of receiving effective counsel.

According to the story, in 1982 Deere shot and killed his girlfriend Cindy Gleason’s brother-in-law, Don Davis, and Davis’ two children, Michelle and Melissa Davis, in Blythe, California. When brought to trial, Deere informed Riverside Deputy Public Defender Glenn Jones, his trial attorney, that he didn’t want a defense. Jones sought and received a psychological evaluation for Deere but did not have him evaluated for competency.

Deere pled guilty to the murders and waived his right to appear at the penalty phase of the proceedings. Deere was found guilty and sentenced to death; however, on appeal to the California Supreme Court, Deere’s conviction was reversed because Jones failed to present any mitigating evidence. At Deere’s second trial in 1986, Jones again failed to present any mitigating evidence. Judge Fred Metheny appointed an independent attorney to represent Deere, however, Deere was again found guilty and sentenced to death. On appeal, the California Supreme Court affirmed the conviction.

Sixteen years later, in 1998, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered that a hearing be conducted to determine Deere’s competency based on the fact that the psychiatrist that originally evaluated Deere was not board-certified and lied about knowing Deere. Based upon the Ninth Circuit’s decision, a United States District Court judge ordered Deere to submit to the psychiatric examination so she could make a decision regarding his competency. Despite Deere refusing to submit to psychiatric evaluation, Judge Snyder determined that Deere had not received effective assistance of counsel.

Monday, Deere’s attorneys presented oral argument to a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of Deere’s petition for habeas corpus. The panel appeared to be divided on the issue of whether Jones rendered ineffective assistance of counsel to Deere at both his trials by failing to present any defense.

Appearing in favor of a determination that Deere’s counsel was deficient, Judge William Fletcher questioned why Jones would have allowed the judge who had already sentenced Deere to death once before, again preside over the penalty phase of the case instead of attempting to get a different judge.

Judges Barry Silverman and Johnnie Rawlinson were not as receptive to the arguments of Deere’s attorney. At one point during the proceedings, Silverman asked Deere’s habeas attorney, “Why couldn’t he [Deere] rationally conclude that he wanted to take responsibility for what he did?” Deere’s attorney, Michael Satris, responded, “That’s not what’s going on here,” maintaining that Deere suffers from a psychological disorder that compels him towards self-destruction.

It will be interesting to see how the federal appeals court ultimately comes out on this case. Questions about effective counsel are always difficult to parse through, but critical to ensuring the criminal justice system operates as intended.

In our area, Orange County criminal defense attorney Lauren K. Johnson has extensive experience protecting the rights of the accused, including post-conviction proceedings. If you have questions regarding California’s criminal law or your rights, contact attorney Lauren K. Johnson today.