Release Date:  January 5, 2007
Contact:  Michael Rushford
(916) 446-0345

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Oral argument in Schriro v. Landrigan on Tuesday, January 9

The United States Supreme Court will consider Arizona’s appeal of a Ninth Circuit ruling which overturned the death sentence of a habitual criminal who murdered a Phoenix man.  One month earlier, Jeffrey Landrigan had escaped from an Oklahoma prison, where he was imprisoned for another murder.  The case of Schriro v. Landrigan involves the murderer’s announcement in court that he did not want his defense attorney to present mitigating evidence at his sentencing hearing.  Last year, an 11-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit held that, despite the defendant’s own objection, Landrigan’s defense attorney had failed to adequately represent him, which invalidated the death sentence.

The California-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation is participating in Arizona’s appeal of that ruling to encourage a decision to reinstate the murderer’s sentence.

“The Ninth Circuit failed to follow the Act of Congress governing its review.  The original trial judge found the facts as to what happened in her own court, but the Ninth Circuit simply did not agree with her findings,” said Kent Scheidegger, the Foundation’s Legal Director.  “Congress has not authorized that kind of second-guessing.”

The facts in this case and Landrigan’s criminal history show him to be a brutal and remorseless murderer.  In 1982 Landrigan stabbed his “best friend” to death in an Oklahoma trailer park.  Following his conviction for murder, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison.  In 1986 he attacked another prison inmate, stabbing him 14 times with a homemade knife.  Following that conviction for attempted murder, his sentence was increased.  In November 1989, Landrigan escaped from prison and made his way to Phoenix, Arizona, where, three weeks later, he befriended a homosexual man and accompanied him to his apartment to “party.”  At the apartment, he had a few beers with the man, then stabbed and strangled him to death.  Before leaving, Landrigan ransacked his victim’s apartment and stole his paycheck.

At the time of his arrest, Landrigan denied knowing the victim or visiting his apartment, although he was wearing the dead man’s shirt during questioning.

At the trial, the prosecutor introduced the testimony of witnesses who placed Landrigan in the victim’s apartment at the time of the murder, several of his fingerprints at the murder scene, the victim’s blood on his shoes, an imprint at the scene matching his shoes, and the testimony of his ex-girlfriend relating a telephone conversation after the murder where he said he had “killed a guy.”

Following his conviction for first-degree murder, a separate hearing was held to determine if he should be sentenced to death or life in prison.  At that hearing, the prosecutor introduced Landrigan’s prior record of violent felonies and the fact that the most recent murder was in conjunction with a robbery, both of which qualified him for a death sentence.  The defense attorney presented the court with a memorandum describing the evidence in mitigation, including Landrigan’s history of drug abuse, but when he tried to call members of Landrigan’s family to testify, the murderer refused to allow it. 

When the attorney attempted to explain his previous crimes in a more favorable light, Landrigan interrupted him.

With regard to the 1982 murder, Landrigan told the Court that his lawyer got it wrong, “When we left the trailer, Greg (the victim) went out of the trailer first.  My wife was between us.  I pulled my knife out, then I was the one who pushed her aside and jumped him and stabbed him.  He didn’t grab me.  I stabbed him.”

Describing the prison assault, Landrigan told the Court, “It was a guy I got in an argument with.  I stabbed him 14 times.  It was lucky he lived.  But two weeks later they found him hung in his cell.”  Finally, in response to the judge asking Landrigan if he had anything to say on his behalf, “Yeah.  I’d like to point out a few things about how I feel about the way this sh- -, this whole scenario went down.  I think that it’s pretty f- - -ing ridiculous to let a fagot be the one to determine my fate, about how they come across in his defense, about I was supposedly f- - -ing this dude.  This never happened.  I think the whole thing stinks.  I think if you want to give me the death penalty, just bring it right on.  I’m ready for it.”

The Arizona Supreme Court later upheld the conviction and sentence on direct appeal.  On state habeas corpus, Landrigan claimed that his attorney was incompetent because he had not introduced mitigating evidence at the sentencing hearing, and suggested that if the attorney had discussed the theory that he was biologically compelled to kill people, he would have allowed it to be presented.

The state court rejected that claim, pointing out that Landrigan had expressly prohibited his attorney from introducing any mitigating evidence.  The Arizona Supreme Court denied the appeal of that holding.  In 1997, Landrigan filed a federal habeas corpus petition, again claiming that his defense attorney had been incompetent.  The federal District Court rejected the claim as did a unanimous panel of the Ninth Circuit.  In 2006, a larger panel of the same court overturned the lower courts, announcing that they had taken Landrigan’s statements refusing to allow mitigating evidence “out of context.”

When the Supreme Court agreed to hear the state’s appeal of that ruling, the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation joined the case.  In an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief, the Foundation argues that the Ninth Circuit ruling, setting aside the state court’s finding that Landrigan prohibited his attorney from presenting mitigating evidence, is a blatant violation of precedent and federal law. 

“Once the state courts have found a fact that defeats the petitioner’s claim, the case should be over as to that claim,” said Scheidegger.  “Only in the rare case of an unreasonable finding has Congress authorized the federal courts to proceed, and this case is not even close,” he added.

The Foundation’s brief in this case is available at: