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Justices Squabble Over Ineffective Counsel

WASHINGTON (CN) - Several justices of the U.S. Supreme Court wrote Tuesday about a month-old decision to stay the execution of a convicted cop killer.

On Oct. 18, the court stayed the execution of Texas inmate Anthony Haynes pending determination of his writ of certiorari.

Texas was set to execute Haynes, 33, that night for the May 1998 murder of off-duty Houston police Sgt. Kent Kincaid.

The officer had confronted Haynes after an object, ultimately identified as a bullet, from Haynes' truck cracked Kincaid's windshield. Haynes, just having committed a series of armed robberies, shot Kincaid in the head as the officer's wife watched.

Haynes has brought his case to the Supreme Court before.

In 2002, the court denied Haynes' first petition for certiorari. After the 5th Circuit had ordered a new trial for Haynes in 2008, the Supreme Court reversed and said the New Orleans-based judges had misinterpreted precedent.

Haynes had found brief habeas relief because the prosecutor at his trial struck a black juror based on her "somewhat humorous" demeanor.

On remand, the circuit denied relief to Haynes. The Supreme Court again declined to grant certiorari six months ago.

It stayed the execution in October after a federal judge in Houston rejected Haynes' latest appeal.

The Supreme Court's grant of stay will terminate automatically if it subsequently denies the inmate a writ of certiorari. If the court grants cert, the stay will end upon disposition of the case.

Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito said in October that they would have denied the stay application.

On Tuesday, Scalia insisted that recent precedent does not excuse the procedural default of Haynes' claim.

Haynes says that Martinez v. Ryan entitles him to argue that his ineffective assistance from counsel prejudiced his trial. Back when the high court decided Martinez in March 2012, Scalia called it "a monstrosity" and "a radical alteration of our habeas jurispru­dence that will impose considerable economic costs on the states and further impair their ability to provide justice in a timely fashion."

He held fast to that line in the dissent regarding Haynes on Tuesday.

"Even if the Fifth Circuit is incorrect and Martinez does implicate Texas's system of postconviction review, a stay is unwarranted here because Haynes presents no plausible claim for relief," Scalia wrote. "His complaint is that his trial counsel was ineffective at sentencing. The absolute most to which he would be entitled under Martinez is excuse of his proce­dural default of this claim, enabling a federal district court to adjudicate the claim on the merits. But that is precisely what the District Court already did on federal habeas review."

After concluding that the stay is unjustified, Scalia also said the District Court also seemed to have properly handled the merits of Haynes's claims.

"Haynes has already outlived the policeman whom he shot in the head by 14 years," Scalia wrote. "I cannot join the court's further postponement of the State's execution of its lawful judgment."

Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito joined in the dissent.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor explained the reasoning behind the stay in a two-paragraph statement joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Undermining Scalia's contention, Sotomayor said that "the Court of Appeals has never addressed the District Court's merits ruling, and has instead relied solely on procedural default."

"The only appellate judge to consider the merits of Haynes' claim would have granted Haynes a certificate of appealability in his current case and stated that it was 'difficult to conclude that Hayne[s] has not made a sufficient show­ing for a Strickland [v. Washington ...] violation as to his trial counsel.' Under these circumstances, rather than assume the correctness of the District Court's unreviewed merits decision, I believe a stay of execution is warranted to allow Haynes to pursue his claim on remand."

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