The Journal Gazette
Saturday, March 23, 2019 1:00 am

Appeal sought on death penalty

Dansby seeks high court ruling

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

A man facing the death penalty for the alleged murders of four people – one, his unborn child – wants the Indiana Supreme Court to decide whether an Allen County judge erred when she rejected a request to exclude the death penalty as punishment for the killings.

Lawyers for Marcus Dansby, 23, had asked Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull to declare the state's capital punishment unconstitutional and throw out the death penalty because of his age – 20 – at the time of the slayings. Gull denied both requests last month.

Defense attorneys Michelle Kraus and Robert Gevers raised the issues again this week, asking Gull in a four-page petition to sign off on allowing Indiana's highest court to weigh in.

Proceedings in the case would stop until justices made a decision, if the local judge agrees to the move. A trial is scheduled Oct. 1 and is expected to last a month. Gull has not ruled on the latest request, court records show.

“The issue of the propriety of the death sentence is better addressed prior to a jury trial and judgment rather than as a direct appeal after a conviction and possible death sentence,” the motion states.

Dansby is charged with four counts of murder in the Sept. 11, 2016, killings of Traeven Harris, 18, Consuela Arrington, 37, Dajahiona Arrington, 18, and the fetus she was carrying. Trinity Hairston was shot and stabbed but survived, and Dansby is charged with attempted murder in that attack.

Prosecutors sought the death penalty in January 2017.

Kraus and Gevers wrote in a nearly 100-page filing last year that the state's death penalty law violates several portions of the U.S. and state constitutions and should be thrown out. Capital punishment is “disproportionate and vindictive” and “has no deterrent effect,” according to their motion.

That was followed by another motion arguing that executing someone who was under 21 when crimes were committed violates constitutional prohibitions on cruel and unusual punishment.

The argument is based on a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2005 that found it is unconstitutional to execute defendants who were younger than 18 at the time their crimes were committed.

Dansby's lawyers want the age raised to 21 and cite shifting opinions on the age at which offenders can be put to death; recent court decisions invalidating death sentences for young defendants; and research on the maturity of young people's brains.

A Temple University psychologist testified in court here in December that human brains continue to mature until at least age 22, meaning younger people have trouble controlling their actions and considering the consequences of those actions.

Gull referred to the claims as “interesting” in court documents but said she was unconvinced. Prosecutors have opposed Dansby's requests.

It is the second time defense attorneys have asked for an interlocutory appeal – essentially a pause in the case to seek a ruling from an appellate court.

They sought to ask the Indiana Supreme Court last year whether the trial court “abused its discretion” when it removed defense attorney Nikos Nakos from the case last year amid questions about his qualifications to work on a capital punishment case. The request was dismissed in April.

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