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Monday, July 15, 2024 | Back issues
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Death Row Inmate Loses FBI Discovery Challenge

CHICAGO (CN) - A convicted murderer cannot seek further discovery from the FBI after it met his lawsuit by quintupling document production, the D.C. Circuit ruled.

Benny Lee Hodge was convicted of murder, robbery and burglary in 1986. He and two others posed as FBI agents to gain entry to a doctor's house, where they stole about $2 million in cash, strangled the doctor until he was unconscious, and stabbed the doctor's daughter to death.

Hodge was sentenced to death, a sentence the Kentucky Supreme Court upheld in 2011. Though defense counsel failed to introduce mitigating evidence of Hodge's abusive childhood at sentencing, the court rejected Hodge's claim of inadequate counsel.

Hodge was raised by a series of abusive men - his father beat his mother while she held Hodge as a baby, and one of his stepfathers repeatedly raped and beat his mother, once so severely that she had a miscarriage.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case in December 2012, over an objection from Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Hodge lost another appeal last week when the D.C. Circuit affirmed that the FBI appropriately responded to his Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in 2002, when it released 361 pages of responsive documents. Later, in response to his lawsuit, the agency found an additional 6,000 responsive pages and released 1,762 to Hodge.

"Hodge argues that the FBI's search for responsive documents was inadequate," Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote for the three-judge panel. "But Hodge has not identified any specific additional searches that he believes the FBI should have conducted. Hodge asserts that the FBI may possess additional responsive documents, but he offers no basis for concluding that those documents might exist."

The court also found that the FBI properly withheld thousands of pages of responsive documents under exemptions provided in the FOIA to protect witnesses and informants.

"In this case, the FBI has explained, again in a sworn declaration, how disclosing the identities of the witnesses in question 'could have disastrous consequences' and could 'subject them to violent reprisals,'" Kavanaugh wrote. "Given the vicious nature of the crimes and the explanation offered in the FBI's affidavits, we conclude that the witnesses who provided the relevant information about Hodge's involvement in the murders would have expected that their identities remain confidential."

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