(CN) - The leg shackle on a man convicted of capital murder likely did not sway the jury at trial, the 9th Circuit ruled Thursday, reinstating his convictions and death sentence.
The federal appeals panel in San Francisco overturned a federal judge's decision to grant the habeas petition of Marvin Pete Walker after he lost his appeal at the state level.
Walker had argued that his lawyer's failure to object to the knee restraint he wore under his pants at trial amounted to ineffective assistance of counsel, because the brace made him walk with a limp.
In 1979, when Walker was 19, he shot and killed a 15-year-old boy and permanently injured three others during two armed robberies in San Jose, Calif. He later sold the murder weapon to an undercover police officer, telling the officer that the gun "had done a murder," according to the ruling.
He was convicted of first-degree murder, three counts of assault with intent to commit murder and other charges, and was sentenced to death in 1980.
At trial, a sheriff's officer placed a knee restraint on one of Walker's legs. Jurors noticed it, because it forced Walker to limp to and from the witness stand.
Circuit Judge Barry Silverman saw nothing unreasonable about the California Supreme Court's conclusion that the leg shackle had not prejudiced the jury.
Silverman called the hidden restraint "relatively unobtrusive" and said it "signified custody status rather than dangerousness." Also, jurors were told that the knee brace "was a more-or-less routine measure taken by the sheriff for all persons in custody," Silverman wrote.
And the shackle was unlikely to prejudice the jury given the "enormous" magnitude of Walker's crimes and the strong evidence of his guilt, the three-judge panel ruled.
"During the first armed robbery, he shot three store employees, two of them execution-style in the head, and killed a 15-year-old," Silverman wrote. "During the robbery, Walker said he wanted the victims killed to eliminate any witnesses. In the second incident, Walker sexually molested a 20-year-old woman at gunpoint by ripping open her blouse and touching her breasts, then pistolwhipped her approximately 12 times, and shot her twice, once in the eye and once through her left ear. She lost her eye and the hearing in one ear, and suffered a fractured neck."
Two survivors of the shootings later identified Walker as the perpetrator.
The 9th Circuit said it was "not unreasonable" for the state high court to concluded that the shackle "was trivial in comparison to the magnitude of his crimes."
In other words, the court said, Walker would probably not have been acquitted even if his attorney had objected to the restraint.
In a partial dissent, Judge Ronald Gould said he thought Walker deserved a new sentencing, because jurors could have instead given him life in prison based on the mitigating evidence.
"Walker's murder and his assaults were cruel and atrocious, but he had going for him in mitigation that he was only a teenager when the crimes were committed, had a clean record before then, and was good to his mother and sister. There is no way to know how a jury would have weighed such factors once told it had the power to permit or to preclude a death sentence, absent shackling that weighed on the jurors' sensibilities," Gould wrote.
"State another way, if counsel had competently fulfilled his duty to have his client unshackled when under the gaze of the jury, I have grave doubt about whether Walker still would have been sentenced to death."
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