The Louisville Courier-Journal recently took a look at the quality of counsel in an article entitled Death Row Inmates Appeal, Cite Bad Counsel. Kentucky up to the mid-to-late nineties, as well as in many other states (and in Texas, Pennsylvania, and a few other states still), suffered under the a problem counsel who were either too inexperienced or too under-resourced to handle capital cases. The Courier Journal points out what can all too often unfold when that happens:
The jury was unaware that Marlowe attempted to hang himself at 6 or 7, and that his parents cursed him as they cut him down.
The jury also had no idea that Marlowe's father repeatedly beat him and his siblings, that Marlowe sometimes slept in a crawl space under the house and that as an adult he exhibited evidence of brain damage.
None of that was introduced at trial because Marlowe's inexperienced attorney made no effort to obtain or to use information about his client's background to save his life. . . .
Goodwyn, Marlowe's trial attorney, said in a recent interview that at the time of trial, he had been practicing law for less than two years, had never before handled a death-penalty case and had tried only a few felony cases of any kind.
"I don't think I had any business doing a case like that, with my level of experience," Goodwyn said. "I don't think I was prepared at all."
Goodwyn doesn't recall talking to anyone in Frankfort about the case -- in part because he said he didn't know enough to seek help, or what to ask for. Nor did it occur to him to request funds to hire expert witnesses, such as a psychologist to assess Marlowe's mental state, or to probe his background.
"I don't think I knew what I was doing," Goodwyn said. "I didn't know what was going on. I didn't investigate anything. I concentrated on guilt or innocence."
Ernie Lewis, the state's public advocate, agreed that public defenders are far less likely to provide ineffective representation in death-penalty cases now than in the past. That is so, Lewis said, in part because the department has adopted American Bar Association standards for legal representation in such cases.
Those standards recommend an experienced defense team consisting of at least two attorneys, an investigator and a "mitigation specialist" who assembles the defendant's social history.
In addition, Lewis said the department also now provides more training for, and oversight of, its attorneys defending capital cases.