Death Penalty Cases Stalled In Appeals Court


UPDATED: Monday December 6, 2010 5:04 PM
They have been convicted of murder and sentenced to death but in many cases their appeals and their death sentences -- are stuck on hold.
 
Proceedings at the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers several states including Ohio, often stall, even after all of the arguments have been made, 10 Investigates' Paul Aker reported on Thursday.
 
The delays leave question marks and heartache for many of the people involved.

Three men broke into Norman Stout's home 26 years ago. They attacked him and fired two gunshots at his head, one of them striking Stout between his eyes. 
 
"They had destroyed my family," Stout said. "I made the attempt to take the guy out of the room, well he shot me first, right here. That's the hole from across the bed. And the bullet is in the back of the head."
 
The attackers then went after his wife of 34 years, Mary Jane Norman.
 
"I did hear the last four shots that killed her," Stout said. "She meant everything.  Every moment you relax, it pops back into your head. So this is not something that happened 26 years ago, this is something that happens every day to me."
 
The court sentenced two of the attackers to prison, but decided one of them, David Stumpf, should die for the crime. 
 
While Stout was spending his years visiting his wife at the cemetery, Stumpf spent them appealing his death penalty ruling.
 
Finally, Stumpf got a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court, but it sent the case back to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
 
The case was argued more than three years ago but there is still no decision.
 
Ohio's Attorney General recently filed a motion asking the court to rule, Aker reported.
 
Stumpf is still alive and Stout still waits for an answer.
 
"I want them to do their job," Stout said. "To earn the money they're drawing monthly."
 
The court's chief judge told 10 Investigates that the code of ethics prevents judges from commenting on specific cases.
 
But it is not just one case being delayed. 10 Investigates scoured thousands of court records and isolated cases involving death penalty issues.
 
We then pulled out only cases that have been waiting for a year or more for the Sixth Circuit Court to make a decision.
 
The investigation revealed six cases, five from Ohio, that all involved murders committed in the 1980s or early 1990s.
 
10 Investigates also examined four nearby circuit courts and between all of them, there were only two cases that had waited anywhere near a year, Aker reported.
 
Johnida Barnes' uncle was murdered in 1985. His killer's case hit a snag at the Sixth Circuit Court, where it has been awaiting a decision since April 2009.
 
"It's unconscionable that we've had to wait 25 years for justice," Barnes said.
 
Earlier this month, the court finally made a decision, ruling that the convicted murderer will get the death penalty.
 
Officials could not talk about the specifics of the case, but Chief Judge Alice Batchelder said death penalty cases often take a long time because judges need to thoroughly review records and the outcomes are so important.
 
Batchelder also said the court has to deal with an extremely high caseload.
 
Until the court finds a way to speed up the process, an 80-year-old man with lead in his brain and a hole in heart has no choice but endure the pain of waiting.
 
"The system is broken," Stout said.
 
Next week it will be three years and four months since the court heard Stumpf's appeal but there is no indication when it might finally rule.
 
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