Release Date: April 29, 2022
Contact:  Michael Rushford
(916) 446-0345

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Barring a last-minute stay, double-murderer Carman Deck will be executed by lethal injection on May 3. While there was never any doubt of his guilt, Deck’s death sentence had been overturned three times due to claims of errors by his defense attorneys. In 2017, a Federal District Judge overturned his third death sentence ruling that the length of time taken to review his multiple appeals violated his constitutional right to due process and amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. In October 2020 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit overturned that ruling and reinstated Deck’s sentence.

The California-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation (CJLF) had joined the case of Deck v. Jennings on behalf of the family of the elderly couple Deck murdered, to encourage a decision overturning the district court ruling.

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. 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. Nine years later, in a 2017 ruling, the federal judge 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. When the Missouri Attorney General appealed that ruling, the victims’ family reached out to CJLF. On their behalf, CJLF Associate Attorney Kymberlee Stapleton submitted a scholarly amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief, arguing that the delay claim was a novel one, not supported by existing precedent. The Supreme Court has held that lawyers are not required to make every conceivable argument and that passing on a novel claim is not incompetence.

Evidence introduced at trial indicated 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.

“For over 20 years, Deck took full advantage of all available appeals and post-conviction remedies to deliberately prolong the imposition of his own death sentence. If the lower court ruling had been upheld, it would have amounted to a fundamental miscarriage of justice to the Long family,” said Stapleton. “The time has finally come for this cold-blooded convicted killer to receive the sentence that three separate juries have given him,” she added.

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