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USCA3 Lifts Stay for Delaware "Volunteer"

The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has lifted the stay of execution of Delaware murderer Shannon Johnson.  The Federal Public Defender had obtained the stay over Johnson's objection, claiming he is incompetent.  Opinion is here.  Thanks to Delaware AG's office for the opinion.

"The fact that Johnson himself has joined in the State's motion speaks volumes about this case."

Update:   The District Court entered a second stay, and the Court of Appeals lifted it again.  Text follows the jump.

Update 2:  The Supreme Court denied a stay Friday morning.  No dissent is noted.

Update 3:  UPI story on the completed execution is here.

On April 19, 2012, at approximately 5:00 p.m., we entered an order vacating the District Court's order of April 18, 2012, staying the execution of Shannon Johnson, which remains scheduled for April 20, 2012. Among other things, we explained that our review of the parties' filings and the available record did not reveal the presence of the "substantial grounds upon which relief might be granted" necessary to support a stay of execution. Barefoot v. Estelle, 463 U.S. 880, 895 (1983) (superseded on other grounds by statute). The District Court then entered a second order staying Johnson's execution at approximately 10:30 p.m. on April 19th. Appellants (collectively, the "State") have again appealed and have filed a motion to vacate the District Court's second stay order, and Johnson, through his state court-appointed counsel, has again joined in that motion. Lakeisha Ford, Johnson's putative next-friend, has filed a response in opposition to the motion. We will vacate the District Court's second stay order for the reasons discussed below.

We do so primarily because our review of the record reveals an absence of "meaningful evidence" to support Ford's contention that Johnson -- despite the extensive history in this case to the contrary -- is mentally incompetent to waive his right to dispense with further legal challenges to his convictions and sentence and proceed to execution. See Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 U.S. 149, 163 (1990); Demosthenes v. Baal, 495 U.S. 731, 737 (1990) (per curiam). "From the Supreme Court's Lonchar, Bowersox, and Delo decisions we draw the rule that we should vacate a stay of execution issued by a district court against the wishes of the death row inmate where continuation of the stay is not necessary in order to determine that those who sought the stay lack standing because the inmate is competent under the standards set down in established precedent." Hauser v. Moore, 233 F.3d 1316, 1321 (11th Cir. 2000). Having reviewed the District Court's second stay order and the concerns expressed therein, we remain of the opinion that continuation of the stay is not necessary for that purpose in this case.

The District Court focused on side issues - whether the state court proceeding was sufficiently adversarial and the extent of disagreement among the experts. The District Court ignored among other things the fact that the Superior Court conducted a face to face colloquy with Mr. Johnson. We have reviewed the transcript of this colloquy and the exhibits in support and are firmly convinced that the Superior Court's finding of Mr. Johnson's competency is entitled to a presumption of correctness. Ford has not presented clear and convincing evidence to rebut the presumption and is therefore not entitled to status as next friend. Taylor v. Horn, 504 F.3d 416 (3d Cir. 2007). Because Ford lacks standing as next friend, the District Court abused its discretion in granting a stay of execution.

For these reasons, the State's motion to vacate the District Court's order staying Johnson's execution is GRANTED, and the stay of execution entered by the District Court on April 19, 2012, is VACATED. The case is remanded with directions to dismiss the application to proceed as next friend. The mandate shall issue forthwith.


Nice to see a court get smacked down this hard.

Wow. The judge entered a second stay. Unreal. Lawless.

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