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Thread: Joseph Edward Corcoran - Indiana Death Row

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    Joseph Edward Corcoran - Indiana Death Row


    Joseph Edward Corcoran


    Facts of the Crime:

    At 17, Joseph Corcoran was accused of shooting his parents because they were too strict. A jury, though, was unconvinced, and Corcoran went free. Five years later, in July 1997, Corcoran was again charged with murder, this time accused of gunning down his brother, his sister's fianc and two other men because he couldn't stand to hear them talking about him. The victims were Douglas A. Stillwell, 30; James Corcoran, 30; Robert Scott Turner, 32; and Timothy G. Bricker, 30.

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    December 3, 2007

    INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Attorney General's Office will ask a federal appeals court to reinstate the death penalty against a man convicted in four murders.

    A U.S. District Court judge in April ruled that prosecutors inappropriately punished Joseph Corcoran for refusing to waive his right to a jury trial.

    Prosecutors offered to not seek the death penalty if Corcoran allowed a judge to rule on his case rather than a jury.

    The judge ruled the offer violated Corcoran's Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. The judge said Corcoran should be resentenced and not face the death penalty.

    Monday, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago will listen to each side's 30-minute oral arguments.

    Deputy Attorney General Stephen Creason said the state disagrees with Sharp's interpretation of federal law as to what kind of plea bargains prosecutors can extend to a defendant.

    Corcoran was sentenced to die for the July 1997 shooting deaths of Douglas A. Stillwell, 30; James Corcoran, 30; Robert Scott Turner, 32; and Timothy G. Bricker, 30, in northern Indiana.

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    December 31, 2008

    CHICAGO (AP) - A federal appeals court ruled today that Indiana can reinstate the death penalty against a convicted quadruple-killer.

    Last year, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago heard arguments about whether Joseph E. Corcoran's death sentence should be overturned.

    His attorneys questioned whether Corcoran was mentally competent when he waived his right to a court review of his death sentence for the 1997 fatal shootings of his brother and three other men at a home in Fort Wayne.

    Corcoran later recanted that decision.

    His attorneys also questioned whether his constitutional rights were violated when prosecutors offered to take the death penalty off the table if Corcoran agreed to a bench trial rather than a jury trial.

    In today's decision, the 7th Circuit ruled that Corcoran's rights were not violated.

    http://www.wxix.com/Global/story.asp?S=9601670

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    October 21, 2009

    Corcoran Still Fights Death Penalty

    FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana's NewsCenter) - A new court ruling gives convicted Fort Wayne murderer Joseph Corcoran another chance to fight the death penalty.

    The United States Supreme Court is ordering a federal appeals court to reconsider Corcoran's arguments, fighting his death sentence for killing four people, including his brother, in 1997.

    A December ruling by a federal appeals court allowed Indiana officials to reinstate the death penalty against 34-year-old Joseph Corcoran, stating prosecutors did 'not' act improperly.

    Tuesday though, the Supreme Court ruled the appeals court should have also ruled on other arguments from Corcoran's attorney, including that he shouldn't be executed because he has paranoid schizophrenia.

    http://www.indianasnewscenter.com/ne.../65218222.html

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    January 27, 2010

    Federal court orders new sentencing for Corcoran

    Indianapolis - A federal appeals court has ordered a new sentencing hearing for a Fort Wayne man on Indiana's death row for killing four people.

    The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled Wednesday that a trial court judge improperly considered aggravating factors not set out in state law when sentencing the now 34-year-old Corcoran. It ordered the Allen County court to hold a new sentencing hearing within 120 days.

    Corcoran's attorneys also argued that he was mentally ill, but the Court of Appeals said that issue should have been first raised in state court.

    Corcoran was sentenced to death in 1999 for killing the four men in a house he shared with his sister because he heard them talking about him.

    http://www.wthr.com/Global/story.asp?S=11890162

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    The US Supreme Court reversed the US Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals' decision and remanded to trial court in a slip opinion issued today.

    Opinion is here:

    http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/10pdf/10-91.pdf

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    Justices Vacate Ruling for Indiana Prisoner

    "Federal courts may not issue writs of habeas corpus to state prisoners whose confinement does not violate federal law," the Supreme Court ruled Monday, overturning a federal appeals court's ruling for an Indiana man convicted of shooting and killing four men.

    In a seven-page, unsigned opinion, the justices unanimously vacated the 7th Circuit's grant of habeas relief to Joseph Corcoran, who was convicted of killing four men, including his brother and his sister's fianc.

    The trial judge imposed the death penalty, partially relying on aggravating factors that the Indiana Supreme Court said were not authorized by state law, including the innocence of the victims and the heinousness of the crime.

    The trial court issued a revised ruling that explained its sentencing decision in a way that satisfied the state high court.

    Corcoran then challenged his sentencing in federal court, again arguing that the trial judge had relied on impermissible aggravating factors.

    But the federal judge granted Corcoran's petition on a different ground: that the prosecutor violated the Sixth Amendment by offering to take the death penalty off the table to avoid a jury trial.

    The 7th Circuit initially denied and later granted his habeas petition on remand from the U.S. Supreme Court, saying the trial court needed to reconsider the death penalty to "prevent non-compliance with Indiana law."

    "But it is only noncompliance with federal law that renders a state's criminal judgment susceptible to collateral attack in the federal courts," the Supreme Court ruled (emphasis in original).

    "The habeas statute unambiguously provides that a federal court may issue the writ to a state prisoner 'only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.'"

    The 7th Circuit's ruling "contained no hint that it thought the violation of Indiana law it had unearthed also entailed the infringement of any federal right," the justices wrote.

    The federal appeals court tried to correct this flaw by amending its opinion to state that Corcoran's habeas petition had invoked federal law.

    "The amendment did not cure the defect," the Supreme Court wrote. "It is not enough to note that a habeas petitioner asserts the existence of a constitutional violation; unless the federal court agrees with that assertion, it may not grant relief" (emphasis in original).

    The Supreme Court vacated the grant of habeas relief and remanded.

    "We express no view about the merits of the habeas petition," the justices added.

    http://www.courthousenews.com/2010/11/08/31691.htm

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    Corcoran death sentence upheld

    Justices enter 2nd ruling in quadruple slaying case

    Overturning the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively reinstated the death penalty against convicted killer Joseph Corcoran.

    It was the second time in just over a year the nation’s highest court slapped down a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals’ 7th Circuit, this time saying the appellate court reviewed Corcoran’s case without evidence of any violation of his constitutional rights.

    For now, the decision puts the death penalty back on track for Corcoran, whose case has wound its way through the state and federal courts since his 1999 Allen Superior Court conviction for the murders of four people.

    According to Bryan Corbin, spokesman for the Indiana Attorney General’s Office, the recent ruling points out the complexity of death penalty cases and safeguards in the state’s criminal justice system.

    Corcoran shot and killed his brother, James Corcoran, 30; his sister’s fianc, Robert Scott Turner, 32; and two of his brother’s friends, Timothy G. Bricker, 30, and Douglas A. Stillwell, 30, at a Bayer Avenue home in July 1997.

    After the conviction, Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull sentenced Corcoran to death.

    Corcoran failed to file a petition in a timely manner to have the trial court review his case, refusing to sign the paperwork because he believed he should be put to death for his crimes, court documents said.

    Then in 2003, after it was determined he was a paranoid schizophrenic who understood his legal position, Gull found him capable of making the decision to refuse appeals, a decision the Indiana Supreme Court upheld.

    Corcoran changed his mind in early 2005 and tried unsuccessfully to seek a trial court review of his case. He then filed a petition in federal court but changed his mind again, saying he never wanted to appeal his sentence, court documents said.

    Against Corcoran’s wishes at the time, the late U.S. District Judge Allen Sharp overturned the death sentence, ruling that then-Allen County Prosecutor Robert Gevers inappropriately punished Corcoran by pursuing the death penalty against Corcoran because, as a defendant, Corcoran demanded a jury trial instead of a trial by judge.

    According to Sharp, the decision violated Corcoran’s Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial and right to have criminal charges clearly explained.

    The 7th Circuit overturned Sharp’s decision in 2008, saying that it is constitutionally permissible to use the threat of more serious punishment to encourage a guilty plea.

    But when the 7th Circuit issued its 2008 ruling, it dealt only with the Sixth Amendment question that Sharp had ruled on. In an October 2009 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court determined the appellate court should have addressed all of Corcoran’s claims, and it sent the case back for another ruling.

    In January, the 7th Circuit handed the case back to the state courts, ordering the state court to hold a resentencing hearing to correct errors it said it found in Gull’s original sentencing order. The Indiana attorney general appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which reviewed the case again earlier this month.

    In the seven-page ruling handed down Tuesday, the Supreme Court said the 7th Circuit erred when it said the sentencing order violated state law, which the state’s highest courts said it did not. Federal courts cannot review state court cases because of allegations of state law violations, only for violations of federal law, according to court documents.

    “The (7th Circuit’s) opinion contained no hint that it thought the violation of Indiana law it had unearthed also entailed the infringement of any federal right,” according to the Supreme Court opinion. “It was improper for the Court of Appeals to (review the case) without first concluding that a violation of federal law had been established.”

    Corcoran may attempt to have the U.S. Supreme Court again review the case, Corbin said.

    A message left for Corcoran’s attorney was not returned Wednesday.

    http://www.journalgazette.net/articl...4/1039/LOCAL03

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    CORCORAN v. WILSON

    On June 20, 2010, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals REMANDED Corcoran's case to the district court to permit it to address his remaining grounds for habeas relief.

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    Man Gets New Chance to Fight Death Penalty

    CHICAGO (CN) - The 7th Circuit breathed life into a death-row inmate's petition for habeas relief, responding to the Supreme Court's second remand of the case.

    Joseph Corcoran shot and killed four men in 1997. He was convicted by a jury and received the death penalty.

    His case bounced around the Indiana court system, making two trips to the state Supreme Court, which affirmed the death penalty.

    U.S. District Judge Allen Sharp later found that Indiana prosecutors had violated the Sixth Amendment by offering to forgo the death penalty if Corcoran would waive his right to a jury trial outside of a formal plea bargain.

    After Sharp ordered the trial court to resentence Corcoran to a sentence other than death, Indiana appealed and Corcoran cross-appealed, asking the 7th Circuit to address his other claims for relief.

    Ultimately, the federal appeals court reversed the grant of habeas relief but did not consider those remaining claims. The majority opinion said: "while we believe that the State's second offer to forego the death penalty if Corcoran tried his case to the bench may be uncommon, the Supreme Court has long instructed that plea agreements may waive constitutional or statutory rights, most pertinently the right to a jury trial."

    The U.S. Supreme Court intervened next and chastised the lower court for brushing Corcoran's other challenges aside.

    But the 7th Circuit admits now that it "made two critical misjudgments" on remand. Rather than sending the case back to the District Court for rulings on the remaining claims, the appellate judges deemed them waived or frivolous, leading the Supreme Court to vacate the judgment a second time.

    After this latest upbraiding, the 7th Circuit said it was ready to "get the case back on track."

    "In hindsight we should have returned the case to the district court after the first remand from the Supreme Court," the unsigned opinion filed June 23 states. "We do so now. This will permit the parties to fully air Corcoran's remaining habeas claims and allow the district court to address them in the first instance."

    Judge Sharp died in July 2009, so U.S. District Judge Jon DeGuilio will hear Corcoran's remaining habeas claims on remand.

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