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The Case of the Chocolate Gag Gifts

Over two years ago, a sharply divided US Supreme Court sent back for further litigation the capital sentence of Marcus Wellons for the murder and rape of a 15-year-old girl.  There is no dispute whatever that Wellons committed the acts in question.

The reason that 5 of the 9 justices thought further litigation of this matter was needed was some chocolate gag gifts at the end of the trial.  After two plus years of litigation, the Eleventh Circuit yesterday confirmed that, although there remains some confusion about the details, the gifts were insignificant in the total picture of the trial and no reason to disturb the sentence.  Opinion is here.  Excerpt follows the jump.  Atlanta Journal-Constitution story is here.
The record establishes that the unfortunate giving of these tasteless gifts was nonetheless inconsequential to the verdicts, and otherwise played no part in the judge's or jury's consideration of the case. The two gifts were given independent of each other, given at the conclusion of the trial, and none of the jurors testified that the gifts were based on anything that occurred during trial. Furthermore, at most only a few of the jurors were involved in giving the tasteless gifts. None of the jurors testified that the gifts bore any relation to their decision to find Wellons guilty of murder and rape, and they testified that the gifts did not affect their decision to impose the death penalty.

The court of appeals expresses some confusion on how to deal with new evidence about the gifts after Pinholster but decides it doesn't matter because the petitioner has no claim in any case.

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