death penalty news----MONT., ARIZ., CALIF.
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Rick Halperin
2017-08-16 13:54:39 UTC
Raw Message
August 16


Libby man convicted of deliberate homicide

Trevor Mercier, the Libby man charged October 2016 in the death of Sheena
Devine, was convicted Thursday, Aug. 10 of deliberate homicide and tampering
with evidence. The jury took little over an hour to return the verdict.

Mercier could face the death penalty at his sentencing, scheduled for 10:30
a.m. Oct. 10, 2017, though prosecutors have not indicated they will seek it.

Devine's body was found in her home by her 2 young daughters on Oct. 6, 2016.
Investigators arrested Mercier in his home the following day after identifying
him as a prime suspect in her death, which they determined had occurred Oct. 5.
Mercier and Devine had been in a relationship that had ended before the

The conviction followed 7 days of testimony that Alicia Backus, an attorney for
the defense, in her closing remarks acknowledged had been "an emotional roller

Mercier's defense acknowledged at trial that he had caused Devine's death but
that it was a case of negligent, not deliberate, homicide, because he did not
intend to kill her. In her closing statements Backus told the jury that the
prosecution had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mercier was
guilty of deliberate homicide.

The night of Devine's death, she and Mercier had fought after Mercier threw a
rock at her car, smashing its windshield. The defense said while fighting
Mercier put Devine into a "sleeper hold," rendering her unconscious. Afterward,
the defense said, Mercier took her inside her house, placed her on the floor,
checked to make sure she was still breathing and then left the house.

In her closing statements Backus said Mercier's actions that night "created the
perfect storm" but were not deliberate.

The prosecution on Friday, Aug. 11 called an expert witness - Dr. Jaime Oeberst
- to the stand to support its assertion that Mercier did in fact deliberately
cause Devine's death. Now a deputy coroner in Kansas, Oeberst performed the
autopsy on Devine on Oct. 8, 2016. Referring to autopsy photos projected onto a
screen, Oeberst testified to the nature of Devine's injuries and also to how
strangulation occurs.

To underscore the difference between the 10 to 15 seconds a "sleeper hold"
takes to render someone unconscious and the three to 5 minutes that can cause
death, Deputy County Attorney Marcia Boris instructed Oeberst to use her watch
to time the passage of 5 minutes - during which the court was silent but for
the occasional paper shuffling or person fidgeting.

Deputy County Attorney Jeff Zwang referred to that dramatic demonstration in
his closing remarks, stating that Mercier had "strangled (Devine) long after
she was unconscious" and that he had beaten her so badly that she had
hemorrhages all around her head and sternum.

In wrapping up the prosecution's closing statement, Boris reminded the jury to
consider Mercier's previous conviction for a February 2016 domestic assault
against Devine - an assault that moments before Backus had minimized in her
closing statement because a counselor had said post-conviction that a
no-contact order put in place should be lifted.

In addition, Mercier's attorneys were critical of aspects of the investigation,
including law enforcement's handling of the crime scene.

Lincoln County District Court Judge Matt Cuffe scheduled Mercier's sentencing
for 10:30 a.m. Oct. 10, 2017, after a pre-sentence investigation has been

(source: The Western News)


Former Obama attorney asks Supreme Court to hear new death penalty challenge

A new challenge to the constitutionality of the death penalty could hit the
Supreme Court's docket soon, following the filing of a petition by former Obama
administration acting solicitor general Neal Katyal on Monday.

Katyal, who argued more cases before the Supreme Court last term than any other
attorney, has garnered attention for his arguments against President Trump's
travel ban. But Katyal's filing on Monday, first reported by Buzzfeed,
indicated Katyal is spoiling for another high-profile battle at the Supreme
Court in the coming term.

Katyal's petition urges the Supreme Court to review the constitutionality of
the death penalty and whether capital punishment in Arizona - "which includes
so many aggravating circumstances that virtually every defendant convicted of
first degree murder is eligible for death" - in particular, violates the Eighth

"In the last 20 years, the number of death sentences imposed and carried out
has plummeted," said the petition filed by Katyal. "A national consensus has
emerged that the death penalty is an unacceptable punishment in any

Katyal continued, "[T]he present reality of capital punishment - that those
sentenced to death must spend decades languishing on death row with the remote
but very real possibility of execution hovering like a sword of Damocles - is
'a punishment infinitely more ghastly' than a swift death."

Katyal's petition comes on behalf of Abdel Daniel Hidalgo, who killed someone
in exchange for $1,000 from a gang member, according to the petition, and also
killed a bystander during the course of his crime.

The Supreme Court has not appeared hospitable to death row inmates in its most
recent term, including after Justice Neil Gorsuch returned the high court to a
full bench of 9 justices. One of Gorsuch's first major actions on the Supreme
Court was to cast a decisive vote with the 5-4 majority to allow a slew of
Arkansas executions to proceed earlier this year. While Gorsuch has written
extensively on the issue of death and dying, his jurisprudence on the death
penalty is limited.

Justice Stephen Breyer, however, has repeatedly indicated his desire for the
Supreme Court to review the death penalty. Breyer has authored dissents and
made other comments urging his colleagues on the high court to review the
constitutionality of the death penalty.

If the case is evenly divided between the high court's ideologically right and
left blocs, then Justice Anthony Kennedy's vote could again prove
determinative. While such action is not necessarily reflective of his opinion
of the merits of the case, Kennedy twice granted the petitioner additional time
to file the petition that finally reached the Supreme Court on Monday.

(source: Washington Examiner)


California files response to Scott Peterson's appeal

Remember Scott Peterson?

The Modesto man convicted of killing his pregnant wife, Laci Peterson, and
their unborn son, Conner, in 2002 is still appealing his death sentence.

Last week, the state Attorney General's Office filed an 150-page response to
Peterson's most recent appeal, filed in 2015. He's claiming, among other
things, that California's death penalty is cruel and unusual.

The state refutes Peterson's claims in their response, which spans more than
40,000 words.

"Peterson offers no persuasive reason to have the court reconsider its prior
decisions," the state's brief reads in refuting one of his claims.

Cliff Gardner, Peterson's lawyer, tells ABC10 that he's not sure yet if they'll
respond or seek more time. They have 30 days to reply to the state's brief.

Peterson remains on death row in San Quentin State Prison.

(source: KXTV-TV news)

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