Supreme Court Stops Death Sentence of Mark Christeson

When Attorneys Are Late

 

The United States Supreme Court has made an unusual and important decision in the area of capital punishment. In January of 2015, SCOTUS intervened in a lower court’s decision to reverse a death sentence for one inmate. SCOTUS’s involvements in death penalty decisions has been few and far between and has often left the death penalty’s implementation even less clear. However, for Mark Christeson, SCOTUS stepped in and determined that the Missouri Supreme Court was in error.

 

The Crime

 

Mark Christeson was convicted in his October 1999 trial for the gruesome murder of three individuals. His victim was Susan Brouk and her two children Adrian and Kyle, ages 12 and 9 respectively. At the time, Christeson was 18 years old. On a February morning in Missouri, Christeson and his 17-year-old cousin took shotguns and entered Brouk’s home. The pair snuck into the home and Christeson proceeded to bind the hands of the children and rape Brouk. Afterwards Susan and her children were forced into Susan’s Bronco. The two then used a knife to cut Susan’s and Kyle’s throats and drowned Kyle. Adrian was suffocated to death. They then burglarized Susan’s home and made their way to California. They were both arrested by California law enforcement on February 9, 1998. Christeson was found guilty of three counts of first degree murder and was sentenced to death for each count.

 

The Appeal

           

The Missouri Supreme Court was prepared to set an execution date for Christeson this past year. Christeson’s attorney, a court-appointed lawyer, attempted to get in touch with experts to launch a federal appeal. At this point, however, the appeal was much too late. In fact, the deadline for the federal appeal had already past a few years earlier. The experts who were contacted sought the court’s approval to allow them to replace the attorneys. The only argument available to the experts was this fairly serious error made by the court-appointed attorneys. The court-appointed attorneys would not consent to such a replacement. Thus, the lower courts permitted no replacement and the substitution was denied completely in spite of the massive deadline oversight.

 

The Supreme Court

           

The last week of January, SCOTUS stepped in and entered an unsigned opinion. The opinion ultimately permitted the exact substitution the experts petitioned for in Missouri’s lower courts. The main reason SCOTUS found in favor of the substitution was based on a conflict-of-interest argument. Seven of the justices agreed that because the court-appointed attorneys made the original mistake of missing the date, they could hardly be expected to make an argument against themselves even to protect their client. They could not be expected to make a legal argument which threatened their professional reputation and livelihood. Justices Alito and Thomas dissented.

 

The Substitution

          

A lawyer who is now eligible to replace the Missouri court-appointed attorneys may also have the opportunity to argue this appeal in federal court. She believes that Christeson was wrongly sentenced to death and possibly wrongfully convicted altogether. As she stated to NPR, His lawyers never interviewed a single witness about his case. Furthermore, his attorneys never spoke with a doctor regarding his mental deficiencies or IQ, which she believes may have been taken advantage of by prosecutors. She believes that serious constitutional errors were made in this trial.

 

As always, our team at Brownstone Law mourns the loss of life of Susan and her children. We hope for a peaceful and just resolution of this tragedy.

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