A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that lower courts must consider convicted murderer Richard Harley Greenway’s claim that he was poorly represented in his trial for the 1988 murders of two women in their Tucson home.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected all of Greenway’s other arguments, but sent his case back to district court for further proceedings on the ineffective counsel question.
Greenway has been on death row since 1989 for the execution-style murders of Lili Champagne and her daughter Mindy Peters.
“We’re relieved that the court made its ruling,” said Therese Day, assistant federal public defender for the district of Arizona. “We’re glad that some court in this great nation will hear his claims.
“If we’re going forward with the execution of a person, some court has to review it. This is necessary, and it’s fair,” Day said.
Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey A. Zick could not be reached for comment Thursday.
In March 1988, Greenway, then 19, and another man broke in to Champagne’s Tucson home and forced her and Peters, 17, to lie down while they were robbed.
At some point, Greenway shot Champagne in the leg before shooting both women execution-style with a .22-caliber rifle. Champagne was shot between the eyes and Peters behind the ear, court records said.
Greenway and the other man stole property, including Champagne’s Porsche, which they later left and set on fire.
According to court documents, Greenway bragged to a coworker about the event and later told a cellmate that he “blew two people away” because they had seen his face during the crime.
Greenway was convicted in March 1989 of first-degree murder, first-degree burglary, armed robbery, theft and arson. In June 1989, he was sentenced to death for the murder and 57 years for the other crimes.
In his latest appeal, Greenway claimed he was poorly represented in his murder trial. He claimed his attorney then did not fully investigate and present mitigating evidence, did not call a particular psychiatrist in his defense and failed to properly prepare another psychologist to testify.
He also said the trial judge was biased because he had worked briefly with the man who was Champagne’s ex-husband and Peters’ father.
All of those claims had been rejected by lower courts and the appellate court concurred for the most part Thursday. It did find, however, that Greenway should be allowed to make his case on the single question of ineffective counsel at trial.
Lower courts had previously refused to hear that argument on procedural grounds, saying that it had been offered too late or that it had already been raised and rejected and Greenway could not raise it again.
But the appeals court said that was a misreading of the rule.
“There was no adequate and independent state ground supporting the trial court’s refusal to hear the claims of ineffective assistance at trial and on direct appeal,” Circuit Judge Mary M. Schroeder wrote in Thursday’s opinion.
Day said the ruling means Greenway “has a chance.”
“If they didn’t do things to ensure that his case is fair, you have to get it right. This allows you to go to district court, do a merits briefing, and possibly get a hearing,” she said.
According to the Arizona Department of Corrections, Greenway is one of 128 inmates on death row. The state has executed 91 people for capital crimes since 1910, including 28 since the death penalty was reinstituted in 1992 and four this year alone.