Baby Killer Loses Relief Over Semi-Closed Trial

     CINCINNATI (CN) – Keeping a 3-month-old baby’s killer on death row, the Sixth Circuit found no violation of his rights in closing parts of the trial to the public.
     John Drummond had been on trial for aggravated murder trial in 2004 after a 3-month-old died in the Ohio home at which he fired an assault rifle.
     At one point in the jury trial, the judge presiding over his case partially closed the courtroom for the testimony of three prosecution witnesses.
     Members of the public were barred from proceedings, but reporters were allowed, according to the ruling.
     “The court explained that one spectator had been disrespectful to deputies and to the court, that another had been charged with assault on a peace officer after an altercation in the courthouse, that some jurors or witnesses felt threatened by some of the spectators, and that Drummond had approached the husband of a potential juror during voir dire,” the decision states.
     After the jury convicted him of aggravated murder and sentenced him to death, Drummond claimed that the partially closed proceedings violated his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial.
     Both a federal judge agreed, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed that habeas relief, but the appellate court took another look at the case after the U.S. Supreme Court remanded it in light of 2014 decision White v. Woodall.
     Though the Cincinnati-based court insisted that Drummond’s claims “are by no means frivolous,” it reversed Friday, citing the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.
     “Per the Supreme Court’s precedents, therefore, the relevant question is not whether we agree with Drummond’s arguments, but whether any ‘fair-minded jurist’ could disagree with them,” Judge Raymond Kethledge wrote for a three-person panel. “In answering that question, we can consider only the Supreme Court caselaw that was already on the books at the time of the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision here.”
     Drummond had cited a case in which the courtroom was closed completely, but Ohio caselaw did not definitively state at the time how to handle a case like Drummond’s “where some spectators but not all are removed from the courtroom,” according to the ruling.
     Finding that the state Supreme Court’s handling of Drummond’s claim was not unreasonable, the court said it must reverse habeas relief.
     The appellate panel likewise rejected Drummond’s claim limitations of his ability to question witnesses at the trial.
     During the public session, the trial court had barred Drummond from cross-examining three witnesses about criminal charges that were either pending against them or had previously been dismissed.
     The trial court barred those questions “because the witnesses had not been convicted of any of the charges,” according to the ruling.
     Judge Richard Allen Griffin concurred in the judgment, but wrote separately to rail against the exclusion of all but the press from a portion of Drummond’s trial.
     “The judgment of the Supreme Court of Ohio was erroneous, but not objectively unreasonable, i.e. not ‘beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement,'” Griffin wrote. “Drummond’s habeas relief, if any, lies not with our court, but with the Supreme Court.”
     Drummond was represented by Alan Rossman with the Ohio Public Defender’s Office, while the Charles Wille and Jocelyn Kelly with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office argued for the state.

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