Cassell files amicus brief with U.S. Supreme Court in support of victims’ rights in death penalty case

A new amicus brief filed in the U.S. Supreme Court this week by University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law Professor Paul Cassell and Allyson Ho of the Washington, D.C. law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP outlines the harmful effects for victims’ family members that occur when there are delays in death penalty cases.  The filing was made in the case of Russell Bucklew vs. Anne L. Precythe, currently pending before the high court.  The brief can be downloaded here.

Cassell and Ho argue that family members suffer unfairly when delays in death penalty cases prevent executions from being carried out. Such is the case for the family of Michael Sanders, who was killed by Bucklew in 1996, and have waited for years to see justice come to fruition.

Paul G. Cassell, a Ronald N. Boyce Presidential Professor of Criminal Law at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law. Photo by Benjamin Hager.

“Abundant academic literature thus confirms what common sense and experience make plain. A victim’s experience with the criminal justice system—particularly when the process is long-delayed, convoluted, and seemingly never-ending—compounds the initial effects of violent crime,” Cassell and Ho wrote in the brief.

“A victim’s experience with the criminal justice system often means the difference between a healing experience and one that exacerbates the initial trauma,”  the brief states.

Cassell and the attorneys have become a voice in the case for the family of victim Michael Sanders. Bucklew killed Sanders after he arrived at a trailer where Sanders was spending time with Bucklew’s ex-girlfriend, Stephanie Ray. Angry that Ray had moved on and was dating Sanders, Bucklew shot Sanders dead and tried to shoot a child escaping from the scene. Bucklew then handcuffed Ray, pulled her into a car and raped her. When police arrived Bucklew then wounded an officer in a gunfight. Bucklew was arrested but later escaped from jail and attacked his rape victim’s mother with a hammer before he was recaptured. The case drew considerable attention in Missouri, where it happened, as well as national attention for the brutality of the crime.

Multiple appeals and delays have prolonged Bucklew’s execution. Most recently, in March, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed his execution after Bucklew’s attorney argued the man could choke on his own blood if lethal injection was used as the method of execution. How executions are carried out when inmates have medical conditions to consider is one of the issues the Supreme Court will consider.

Cassell’s participation in the case builds on his scholarly work as an advocate for victims’ rights.