The Mississippi Supreme Court has sided with an Adams County judge who ruled death row inmate Joseph Patrick Brown was not unfairly treated when his attorneys decided against pursuing a mental evaluation of their client.
The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision Thursday, agreed with Circuit Judge Isadore W. Patrick that Brown's attorneys "had not acted deficiently so as to satisfy a claim of ineffective assistance."
In 2009, Brown's case was among nine death row post-conviction appeals in which the Supreme Court asked trial judges why they had not ruled - or scheduled hearings.
Brown's claims of ineffective counsel were heard in Adams County Circuit Court in 2004. But no ruling was issued. Patrick, who was appointed to the case by the Supreme Court, issued a ruling denying the petition in 2010.
In a post-conviction petition, an inmate argues he has found new evidence - or a possible constitutional issue - that could persuade a court to order a new trial.
The Supreme Court asked Patrick to determine if there was merit to Brown's complaint about his attorneys' failure to ask questions about a state mental examination or to pursue an examination themselves.
Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr., writing for the court's majority, said Thursday that Brown's attorneys, after talking with doctors from the state mental hospital where Brown was examined, decided "not to have the doctors produce a report after determining that such report would be more harmful than helpful."
Waller said that decision was courtroom strategy; a case, he said, "where a conscious decision was made to go forward with certain witnesses but not others."
4 dissenting justices said it appeared Brown was not given all the material and records he needed to support his claims.
Brown was convicted and sentenced to death in Adams County in 1994 for the killing of a convenience store clerk in Natchez.
Prosecutors said Brown and his girlfriend were driving around Natchez on Aug. 8, 1992, looking for drugs when they pulled into the Charter Food Store where Martha Day worked.
Brown's girlfriend testified that she saw Day grab her chest and fall after Brown approached the counter. The woman said Brown returned to the car with a cash register and other items.
Police said Day was shot 4 times and died at the scene.
(source: Associated Press)