A death penalty case from the state of Washington that had been appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States was recently rejected by the Court. However, despite the fact that it was rejected, the case still offers valuable insight into how difficult it is to overcome cases that involved ineffective assistance of counsel at the trial or sentencing stage.
Elmore v. Holbrook
The case, Elmore v. Holbrook, involved a grisly murder in the state of Washington. A teenage girl went missing in 1995, and her body was found in a ditch. Her stepfather, Clark Elmore, was charged with her rape and murder, and he pled guilty to both charges, sending the case straight to the sentencing portion.
The prosecution sought the death penalty in the case, putting the stakes as high as they could go for the defense team. However, despite the overwhelming importance in the case, the public defense attorney assigned to Elmore’s case was less than thorough in his investigation of the crime and the mental health history of Clark Elmore.
History of Mental Health Issues
Mr. Elmore had a long history of red flags for mental health problems. His first dozen years were spent in central Oregon, in a house near an airport where crop dusting occurred on a frequent basis. The State of Oregon later conducted a soil investigation that found that the place where Mr. Elmore grew up had a neurotoxin level that was 4,500 times the maximum allowed by state regulation.
Mr. Elmore then spent a tour of duty in the military in Vietnam, where he would regularly be ordered to repair Agent Orange pumps without protective gear. He also worked in mechanical shops in the U.S., in regular direct contact with dangerous chemicals without gloves.
Mr. Elmore’s personal history was littered with warning signs that he was suffering from brain damage that could have pushed Mr. Elmore to murder his step-daughter.
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel at Sentencing
Despite all of these warning signs, when it came time to convince a jury that Mr. Elmore did not deserve the death penalty, his public defense attorney, Jon Komorowski, spent only an hour arguing his case. Over the span of that short hour, Komorowski never brought up Mr. Elmore’s history of neurological issues because he did not thoroughly investigate them. Instead, Komorowski pointed out to the jury that Mr. Elmore clearly regretted killing his step-daughter, bringing up multiple witnesses that attested to his devastated attitude for the murder.
Unfortunately, the jury did not buy this argument, and sentenced Mr. Elmore to death. Since then, his appellate attorneys have been pushing for courts to reconsider his sentence. However, now that the Supreme Court has refused to hear his case, he will have to turn elsewhere.
Federal Criminal Law Center Can Help
This case showcases the importance of having a skilled and able defense team on your side that is willing to leave no stone unturned in your defense. Contact the Federal Criminal Law Center for a thorough defense of your case.