Professor Ursula Bentele and two of her students, Michael Debbane 11’ and Sarah White 11’, appeared on NBC New York’s 11 o’clock news November 11 for a story about the D.C. sniper, John Muhammed, who was executed by lethal injection in Virginia that same night. These students and other members of the Capital Defender and Habeas Corpus Clinic have spent the past several weeks assisting Mr. Muhammed’s chief attorneys, Jon Sheldon and J. Connell, in drafting a petition for certiorari in the United States Supreme Court.
The students first argued that Muhammad’s trial attorneys rendered ineffective assistance of counsel when, despite strong evidence of their client’s mental disturbance, they failed to alert the court to those deficiencies when Muhammad asked to represent himself. Next they raised the issue of the shortened deadlines under which Muhammad had to operate in filing the federal habeas petition. The Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) set the time limit at one year. Yet because the Virginia Attorney General has the power to request the setting of execution dates, that time has been shortened. Virginia appears to be the only state to have successfully required filing the petition far sooner than the federal deadline.
Although certiorari was denied by a unanimous Court, Justice Stevens, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, issued a statement which decried the practice of allowing a state to execute a death row inmate “before their appeals process has been fully concluded.”Watch video of the interview.