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Wednesday, June 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Death Penalty for PA Prisoner Thrown Out

PHILADELPHIA (CN) - Blocking the execution of a Pennsylvania prisoner, a federal judge cited lapses by defense counsel with respect to evidence of childhood abuse and medical history.

Darrick Hall was one of three men convicted for the Dec. 18, 1993, armed robbery of a Chester County laundromat, and Hall was convicted for murdering the laundromat attendant. Prosecutors showed that while Hall and his two accomplices were changing clothes after the shooting, they joked about the guns they had used.

Though the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the death penalty for Hall, U.S. District Judge James Gardner found Wednesday that habeas relief is required because of deficiencies by Hall's trial attorney.

Even a basic investigation into Hall's life would have unearthed evidence of extreme childhood abuse and a history of significant head traumas and seizures, according to the 180-page ruling.

While the two witnesses Hall's attorney called, Hall's former girlfriend and his mother, provided brief testimony on Hall's overall character, evidence that his father regularly raped and beat his mother, pulled knives on her and threatened to kill her fell through the cracks because of defense counsel's research lapses, Gardner found.

Hall has since submitted an affidavit from his mother that Hall's father once kept her "in the house and repeatedly raped and beat her until friends were able to free her." Four affidavits also show that Hall witnessed his father breaking his mother's arm.

Hall's father took money allotted for food and household expenses and used them for drugs, the affidavits showed. When Hall was 5, his father was arrested and his mother began a relationship with another man who beat Hall. Around this time, his mother "began drinking as a way to cope with the abuse," the court found, citing the affidavits.

Hall's medical history meanwhile includes seizures and a bicycle accident when he was 8 years old that resulted in the loss of consciousness, according to the ruling. A psychological evaluation when Hall was a child revealed an IQ score of 73, significantly below average.

Applying the holding of the 1984 Supreme Court case Strickland v. Washington, Gardner said that the outcome of Hall's trial may have been different but for the failure by his attorney to introduce evidence of Hall's extreme emotional or mental disturbance and inability to fully appreciate the criminality of his conduct.

"Because trial defense counsel's inadequate investigation and presentation of mitigating evidence at the penalty phase of petitioner's trial fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and because petitioner suffered prejudice as a result of trial defense counsel's deficient performance, I conclude that petitioner is entitled to relief from his death sentence," the opinion states.

A new sentencing hearing will take place in the next 180 days.

Pennsylvania prison records show that Hall, 43, is being held at Graterford.

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