Death Penalty Lawyers Failed Client, Justices Say

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A convicted killer in Maryland had his death sentence voided by the Supreme Court today because of failures by his legal defense team.

The Associated Press says that the high court, voting 7 to 2, threw out the death sentence of Kevin Wiggins, a borderline retarded man convicted of drowning an elderly Maryland woman who employed him as a handyman. The jury that sent Wiggins to death row never heard that he was repeatedly raped, beaten and denied food as a child, or that his mother burned his hands on the stove as punishment.

If jurors knew the ghastly details, they might have chosen a life sentence for Wiggins, the high court majority said. Wiggins’ conviction stands, but the court ordered a new sentencing.

At issue was defense lawyers’ constitutional duty to look into a client’s past in hope of finding evidence that could sway jurors against imposing a death sentence.

Wiggins’ two original lawyers had almost no experience defending a capital case.


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