ST. LOUIS (CN) - Defense attorneys did not give ineffective counsel by securing a mostly black jury for the murder trial of a white supremacist, the 8th Circuit ruled.
Chevie O'Brien Kehoe, a member of the Aryan People's Republic militia, went on trial in 1999 to face charges related to the triple murder of gun dealer William Mueller, his wife Nancy Mueller and her 8-year-old daughter Sarah Powell.
Knowing that a conviction could put Kehoe on death row, his defense attorneys strategically decided to load the jury box in Little Rock, Ark., with black panelists.
They reasoned that blacks were more likely than whites to discredit government testimony, were less likely to issue the death penalty generally and were less likely to sentence Kehoe to death.
The jury ultimately consisted of nine black and three white panelists. They convicted Kehoe of racketeering and murder charges and sentenced him to life without parole.
Kehoe, also known as Jonathan or Chevie Collins, claimed that this strategy amounted to ineffective counsel, but the federal appeals court on Monday affirmed denial of his petition for habeas corpus relief.
It found that Kehoe is not entitled to the presumption of prejudice described in the 1984 U.S. Supreme Court decision United States v. Cronic, where the failure of defense counsel to assist their client results in a violation of the client's rights under the Sixth Amendment.
"Kehoe's trial counsel was present and active during voir dire," Judge Roger Wollman wrote for a three-judge panel. "Although trial counsel's strategy may have been misguided, it cannot be said that it denied entirely Kehoe the assistance of counsel during voir dire, and Kehoe is thus not entitled to the presumption of prejudice established in Cronic."
Kehoe also is not entitled to a presumption of prejudice because he failed to demonstrate "a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different," the decision states, quoting the 1984 decision Strickland v. Washington.
Chief Judge William Jay Riley and Judge Michael Melloy concurred with Wollman.
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