Stumpfed. Tortured.

It was almost exactly three years ago that we opined on the ongoing plight of a man named John David Stumpf.  We’ve continue to struggle along where we are in the time since.  Mr. Stumpf continues to reside on Ohio’s death row, with his execution apparently currently scheduled for some time in 2018.

Ugh.  None of this is making anyone happy, especially Mr. Stumpf we assume, and also the son of the woman he murdered – who thought this was all taking way too long back in ’07 – though we hasten to add that when we use the term “murdered” we are referring to felony murder.  Which isn’t really murder.

Ugh again.  Torture indeed.

Yet we write about this again to point out that we, too, are being tortured.  You might call it intellectual torture, because just thinking about this is painful, and here’s why:  Mr. Stumpf’s case has been through the Ohio courts at least twice.  Then into the federal habeas system, where the District Court denied relief, then the 6th circuit reversed and granted relief, then the Supreme Court took it up because granting relief in a habeas case is almost certain to attract a reversal at some point which indeed it did and then it went back to the 6th circuit which wasn’t happy and so a three judge panel issues one ruling pretty much doing what they did before and then that panel decision is vacated and the 6th circuit hears the case “en banc” and finally decide that they’re not going to do anything and that Mr. Stumpf’s death sentence is good to go whenever the State of Ohio gets around to it.  Which, like we said, seems to be some time in 2018.

And as you can see an awful lot of state and federal court ink has been spent on Stumpf.

But the reason this is torture for us here at LoS is that in all of that ink, and in all of the other ink from other court decisions cited in that ink, the one case that absolutely, positively governs the outcome is never mentioned.  That case is Pyle v. Kansas, and in 1942 Pyle held that it was a violation of federal constitutional due process standards for a state criminal prosecution to do the very thing that it did to Mr. Stumpf.

That being, to take inconsistent positions in two different criminal prosecutions of the same crime so as to obtain convictions in each:

…that the record in the trial of one Merl Hudson for complicity in the same murder and robbery for which petitioner was convicted, held about six months after petitioner’s direct appeal from his conviction, reveals that the evidence there presented is inconsistent with the evidence presented at petitioner’s trial, and clearly exonerates petitioner.

It’s enough to drive one mad.  We don’t know if Pyle is ignored because the courts just ignored it even though it was brought to their attention, or whether it was never brought to their attention at all.  What we do know is that the State of Ohio should concede that it can’t execute Mr. Stumpf, because at best it doesn’t know whether he actually pulled the trigger or not.

The state (Kansas) has to decide whether Pyle or Merl Hudson is guilty and stick to it. Just as the state (Ohio) has to decide whether Stumpf or Wesley pulled the trigger and stick to it.  And if they change positions they can’t get what they want in either.

This is not rocket science.  But it might as well be.  Ugh.



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2 responses to “Stumpfed. Tortured.

  1. Zarepheth

    I have not read the cases and linked references, nor do I remember the details of what you wrote 3 years ago. However, I agree in principle that the government must hold consistent positions in ALL that it does, across ALL of its cases – especially when prosecuting multiple defendants for the same crimes.

    However, if both Stumpf and Wesley were partners in crime, I believe both are guilty of murder and robbery, regardless of who pulled the trigger. The letter of the state law may dictate that only the one who pulled the trigger is the murderer. As I am sure you are well aware, Legal guilt and Moral guilt are two different things.

    Assuming the evidence is sufficient to prove that the pair, working together, killed the victim I would call them both guilty and deserving of the death penalty. However, if the evidence indicates one person committed the crime, but the government is trying to pin it on two people, there is a serious problem.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, Z. Good to see you.

      You understood the point of the post very well. But if I may just briefly clarify something. Wesley and Stumpf are both guilty of serious criminal conduct and deserve punishment, but my personal opinion (apparently not in agreement with yours) is that a person guilty only of “felony murder” – that is, he agreed to participate in a felony other than murder but one of his accomplices, without his knowledge or consent, kills someone during or immediately after the underlying felony – should not be eligible for the death penalty. The simple reason being that however blameworthy his conduct, he didn’t intend to kill anyone and did not in fact kill anyone.

      So in a situation like this, based on that, it’s important to identify which of the accomplices did the actual killing. And the state can’t (and here we seem to be in agreement) say that one did at his trial and then turn around and say that the other did at another trial, an understandable effort to get the real monster no matter what, but still dishonest and ultimately unconstitutional.

      Thanks for the comment.


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