FORT WAYNE – A federal judge in South Bend said convicted local murderer Joseph Corcoran can appeal his death sentence again to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.
In February, Corcoran’s attorneys asked whether they could appeal a January ruling by U.S. District Judge Jon DeGuilio denying the 37-year-old man relief from his death sentence.
DeGuilio found that Corcoran failed to show that Indiana’s decisions to uphold the death penalty in his case were contrary to decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. On Wednesday, DeGuilio granted the request to have the higher court review his January ruling.
Corcoran’s lawyers asked to be allowed to make their case to the higher court because it is a death penalty case, asking to again argue that there were errors in how Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull sentenced Corcoran.
Specifically Corcoran’s lawyers argue that she improperly considered factors against Corcoran in sentencing him and that she failed to consider specific factors in his favor, according to court documents.
If the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals accepts the case, it would be the fourth time it has heard it.
Corcoran shot and killed his brother, James Corcoran, 30; his sister’s fiancé, Robert Scott Turner, 32; and two of his brother’s friends, Timothy G. Bricker, 30, and Douglas A. Stillwell, 30, at a Bayer Avenue home in July 1997.
Since his incarceration, Corcoran has bragged about killing his parents with a shotgun in Steuben County in 1992 – a crime for which he was charged and acquitted.
The state of Indiana can request the death penalty if a defendant is found to have committed murder with at least one aggravating circumstance, such as the age of the victim, multiple victims, while committing another crime or killing a law enforcement officer.
In Corcoran’s case, Gull found that one of the aggravating circumstances existed, specifically the multiple victims.
But when she sentenced Corcoran to death, she cited a number of factors against him – the innocence of the victims, the heinousness of the crime and the likelihood Corcoran would kill again.
She also cited some factors to be considered in his favor but gave them less weight than what she considered against him.
In 2000, Gull rewrote her sentencing order, carefully explaining what she considered and what she did not. The order reaffirmed the death penalty, and it has been upheld by the Indiana Supreme Court.
DeGuilio ruled that the Indiana Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Gull’s order was not unreasonable, nor did Corcoran show the trial court violated his federally secured rights, according to court documents.
But in their request for the case to go before the federal court of appeals, Corcoran’s attorneys argued that the 7th Circuit never answered the question of whether Gull improperly considered aggravating circumstances and should further consider whether she considered enough factors in his favor, according to court documents.
In his order issued Wednesday, DeGuilio said that if Corcoran’s attorneys asked to appeal on any issue other than Gull’s sentencing considerations, he would not have granted it.
The back-and-forth nature of the case in different levels of the judicial system has continued since Corcoran was convicted and sentenced in 1999.