On January 20, the U.S. Supreme Court granted Missouri death row inmate Mark Christeson the opportunity to make his case for federal court review of his sentence. TCP organized two “friend-of-the-court” briefs from former state and federal district judges supporting Christeson’s case.
Christeson was convicted of a 1998 murder of a woman and her two children in rural Missouri. At his trial, jurors never heard evidence that Christeson was raised in a climate of poverty, abuse, crime, and incest – all bearing on both his culpability for the crime and on the appropriateness of a death sentence in his case. Christeson was denied federal court review because his court-appointed attorneys missed a deadline by four months in 2005. He is the only inmate on Missouri’s death row that has not received any federal review of his conviction.
Last October, fifteen former state and federal district judges asked the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals to stay the execution of Missouri death row inmate Mark Christeson so that the federal courts could have an opportunity to hear his appeals. In a “friend of the court” brief organized by The Constitution Project, the judges argued that Christeson had been abandoned by his court-appointed counsel and, as a result, had never received federal review of his sentence. To proceed with the execution absent federal review would “cast a pall over the [judicial] process,” the brief claimed.
The 8th Circuit rejected Christeson’s request for a stay, and he appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. On October 27, the judges filed a brief in support of Christeson’s request for the Supreme Court to take jurisdiction. The Associated Press reported on the appeal to the Supreme Court. On a 7 – 2 vote, the Court accepted Christeson’s pleading without needing to hear counter-arguments from the government, and returned the case to the lower courts for further proceedings.
Christeson’s attorneys credited the TCP briefs with strongly informing the Court’s final decision. The briefs were written with generous pro bono assistance from Goldstein & Russell P.C.