Release Date:  February 10, 2020
Contact:  Michael Rushford
(916) 446-0345

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Oral Argument for Deck v. Jennings set for Tuesday

The U. S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit will hear oral argument on February 11 to review a District Court ruling that overturned the death sentence of a double-murderer. The case involves the conviction of Carman Deck for the burglary, robbery, and murder of an elderly couple in 1996. During the 12 years following his 1998 conviction and sentence, Deck won two appellate court rulings granting him new sentencing trials. At each new trial, a new jury recommended the death sentence. Finally in 2017, Deck won a Federal District Court ruling announcing that the years spent on his sentencing challenges violated his constitutional rights and that the attorney for his third resentencing was incompetent.

The California-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation has joined the case of Deck v. Jennings on behalf of the family of the murdered couple to encourage a decision overturning the District Court ruling.

Evidence introduced at trial indicates that Carman Deck and his sister went to the home of Zelma and James Long in the small town of DeSoto, Missouri, on a summer evening in 1996. After waiting for nightfall, Deck and his sister knocked on the door of the Longs’ home, and when Mrs. Long answered, they asked for directions. Mrs. Long invited them in, and she and Mr. Long assisted them with directions. When Deck moved toward the door to leave, he drew a pistol, pointed it at the Longs, and ordered them to lie face down on their bed. The Longs did so, offering up money and valuables throughout the house and all the while begging that he not harm them. After Deck finished robbing their house, he stood at the edge of their bed, deliberating for 10 minutes over whether to spare them. He ignored their pleas and shot them each twice in the head. Deck later told police that he shot the Longs because he thought that they would be able to recognize him.

After a third jury sentenced Deck to death in 2008, he petitioned the Federal District Court on habeas corpus to review his 32 claims of trial, sentencing, and defense counsel errors. The court dismissed 30 of those claims, but upheld the claim that Deck’s rights were violated by resentencing him so long after the crime and also found the defense attorney for his third sentencing trial incompetent for not raising that claim earlier.

On behalf of the victims’ family, CJLF Associate Attorney Kymberlee Stapleton submitted a scholarly amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief, arguing that the District Court’s holding created a new constitutional right that has never been identified by the U. S. Supreme Court. The 1989 Supreme Court decision in Teague v. Lane (won by CJLF) prohibits the lower federal courts from discovering new rules of law on habeas corpus. The Foundation also notes that a defense attorney who does not invent a claim unsupported by existing law is not incompetent.

“Deck was sentenced to death by three separate juries and has taken full advantage of all available appeals and post-conviction remedies. The fact that he is claiming that his own delay in postponing his own death is reason for him to escape full punishment for his heinous crimes is absurd,” said Stapleton. “This cold-blooded killer richly deserves the sentence that three separate juries have given him, and the illegal ruling sparing him must not stand,” she added.

CJLF Associate Attorney Kymberlee Stapleton is available for comment at (916) 446-0345.