The U.S. Supreme Court will review the death penalty case of a Fort Worth, Tx., man who shot and killed a 5-year-old girl and her grandmother at a children’s birthday party. The high court said Friday it would look into a legal distinction between ineffective lawyering in the trial court and during state appeals, the Texas Tribune reports. Erick Davila, 29, received the death penalty for the 2008 deaths of Annette Stevenson, 47, and her 5-year-old granddaughter, Queshawn. Davila, a gang member, drove up to a house where he knew a rival gang member, Jerry Stevenson, was and shot into the house and front porch. Instead of killing the man, Davila killed Stevenson’s daughter and mother.
During his trial, defense attorneys said Davila didn’t intend to kill multiple people, only Jerry Stevenson, which would make the case ineligible for a capital murder conviction and the death penalty. To be convicted of capital murder in this case, Davila must have knowingly and intentionally killed multiple people. The crux of Davila’s argument rests on a jury instruction and how appellate lawyers dealt with it. Davila’s appellate lawyer didn’t raise improper jury instruction as an issue, a mistake Davila’s current lawyer says was “life-threatening.” Death row inmates may appeal to federal court system, but it is generally ruled that issues that could be raised at the state level — like jury instructions — can’t be reviewed at the federal level until they have gone through the state courts. One exception is if the state lawyers failed to raise the issue of ineffective trial counsel. Davila’s attorney argues that the exception should also apply to state lawyers who fail to raise the issue of ineffective appellate counsel.