For Immediate Release
Media Contact: Bob Cooper
Date: October 29, 2010
Idaho Seeks U.S. Supreme Court Review of Shackelford Case
(Boise) – The State of Idaho is asking the United States Supreme Court to overturn a decision of the Idaho Supreme Court vacating the death sentences of Dale Shackelford.
Shackelford was convicted of the May 1999 murders of his ex-wife, Donna Fontaine, and her boyfriend, Fred Palahniuk, near Kendrick, Idaho. The jury also found Shackelford guilty of first-degree arson, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit arson and preparing false evidence. On October 25, 2001, Second District Judge John R. Stegner sentenced Shackelford to death for both first degree murder charges.
On June 24, 2002, in the case of Ring v. Arizona, the United States Supreme Court ruled that juries, not judges, must determine if certain factual circumstances (known as “aggravating factors”) required for a death sentence are present. Committing multiple murders at the same time is one of the aggravating factors under Idaho law.
On appeal, the Idaho Supreme Court vacated Shackelford’s sentence, concluding that the jury was not instructed on the multiple murder aggravating factor, which is contrary to the Ring decision. The Idaho court also concluded that failing to instruct the jury on the multiple murder aggravator could not be reviewed for “harmless error.”
Idaho is asking the United States Supreme Court to order the Idaho Supreme Court to review the Ring error for harmlessness. In its petition for certiorari, the state argues that, because the jury found Shackelford guilty of two murders and the evidence established that the murders were committed at the same time, the jury necessarily found the multiple murder aggravating factor to be present. Therefore, the state believes, any Ring error is harmless.
The state also urges the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case because the Idaho court’s decision does not consider the most recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions regarding harmless error and jury instructions and because it is in conflict with decisions from the federal circuit courts of appeals and other state courts.
Shackelford is also seeking U.S. Supreme Court review of his case on different grounds.
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