Ninth Circuit Remands Killer’s Death Sentence

PASADENA, Calif. (CN) – The Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded the denial of a convicted killer’s death sentence, finding the Arizona Supreme Court failed to consider all mitigating evidence in his case.
     An Arizona jury convicted Charles Hedlund of first-degree murder for the 1991 killing of Jim McClain and the second-degree murder of Christene Mertens, and sentenced him to death.
     Hedlund and James Erin McKinney went on a home robbery spree in 1991.
     During the “extensive planning” for the crimes, McKinney “boasted that he would kill anyone who happened to be home during a burglary and Hedlund stated that anyone he found would be beaten in the head,” Judge N. Randy Smith wrote in the Ninth Circuit panel’s summary of the case.
     The men beat and savagely stabbed Mertens during a robbery in March 1991, ransacked her home and stole $120 in cash.
     Days later, in their fifth robbery, Hedlund and McKinney broke into McClain’s home, shot him in the back of his head as he slept, and took his pocket watch, three guns and car.
     A jury found Hedlund guilty of the second-degree murder of Mertens, the first-degree murder of McClain, and lesser charges, in November 1992.
     In a special verdict, the jury unanimously found Hedlund guilty of the premeditated murder of McClain and rejected a felony murder theory. The trial court sentenced Hedlund to death for the first-degree murder of McClain and to prison on the lesser charges.
     The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed Hedlund’s conviction and sentence, noting “ample evidence” that he had killed McClain.
     Hedlund filed an amended petition in state court, which was denied without an evidentiary hearing. The Arizona Supreme Court summarily denied Hedlund’s petition for review.
     Hedlund filed the current amended petition in 2003, for a writ of habeas corpus in Federal Court. He also filed a motion to expand the record and for evidentiary development of certain claims.
     The court denied Hedlund’s motion to expand the record and denied six of his claims in 2005. It denied Hedlund’s remaining claims in 2009, and found he was not entitled to habeas relief.
     On March 4, the Ninth Circuit affirmed all the lower court rulings but habeas relief for the death sentence, which it reversed and remanded.
     The Ninth Circuit denied relief on Hedlund’s claim on the use of a visible leg brace as a security measure during trial, use of dual juries for Hedlund and McKinney, juror bias, ineffective assistance of counsel during the plea process, and ineffective assistance of counsel during the penalty phase.
     It granted only his challenge to the death penalty.
     “We remand with instructions to grant the writ with respect to Hedlund’s sentence unless the state, within a reasonable period, either corrects the constitutional error in his death sentence or vacates the sentence and imposes a lesser sentence consistent with law,” Judge Smith wrote for the three-member panel.
     Applying the Ninth Circuit 2015 ruling in McKinney v. Ryan, the court held that the Arizona Supreme Court’s application of a causal nexus test, “whereby not all mitigating evidence was considered under Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586 (1978), Eddings v. Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104 (1982), and their progeny – was contrary to clearly established federal law, and that the error was not harmless.”
     Circuit Judge Kim Wardlaw concurred and dissented in part, disagreeing with the majority’s disposition of Hedlund’s claims of unconstitutional shackling and ineffective assistance of counsel.
     “Like the sentencing court, the Arizona Supreme Court completely disregarded important mitigating evidence, and violated Hedlund’s Eighth and 14th Amendment rights by depriving him of a properly informed, individualized determination before he was punished with a sentence of death,” Wardlaw wrote.

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