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White v. Wheeler

Justia Summary

In 1997, Louisville police found the bodies of Malone and Warfield in their apartment. Malone had been stabbed. Warfield, then pregnant, had been strangled and scissors stuck out from her neck. Crime scene DNA matched Wheeler’s. During voir dire, Juror 638 gave equivocal answers about the death penalty, saying “I’m not sure that I have formed an opinion … I believe there are arguments on both sides.” Asked about his ability to consider all available penalties, he noted he had “never been confronted with that situation in a, in a real-life sense of having to make that kind of determination.” “So it’s difficult … to judge how I would I guess act.” He agreed that he was “not absolutely certain whether [he] could realistically consider” the death penalty and described himself as “a bit more contemplative on the issue of taking a life and, uh, whether or not we have the right to take that life.” Later, however, he stated that he could consider all the penalty options. The court granted a prosecution motion to strike Juror 638 for cause based on his inconsistent replies. Wheeler was convicted and sentenced to death. The Kentucky Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the judge “appropriately struck for cause those jurors that could not impose the death penalty.” After exhausting state postconviction procedures, Wheeler unsuccessfully sought habeas corpus (28 U.S.C. 2254). The Sixth Circuit reversed, granting relief as to Wheeler’s sentence. The Supreme Court reversed. The Kentucky Supreme Court was not unreasonable in its application of clearly established federal law in concluding that Juror 638's exclusion did not violate the Sixth Amendment.

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