Death Penalty Conviction Overturned Due to an Attorney’s Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

By: Wallin & Klarich

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently overturned a defendant’s death penalty finding that his lawyer did not provide effective assistance of counsel.

In 1982, in an Arizona state court, Laurence Libberton was convicted of the murder of Juan Maya. The key witness at the trial, Martin Norton, a juvenile also charged in connection with the crime, testified that the Libberton shot Maya. During the penalty phase of the trial, Libberton’s counsel only called two witnesses, and Libberton was subsequently sentenced to death for the murder.

On appeal, Libberton presented evidence that was unavailable to him at trial. The appeals court initially ruled that the additional evidence could not be admitted because it was not part of the record at trial. The Ninth Circuit reversed, finding that the evidence was available at trial, but Libberton’s lawyer did not present it and was therefore ineffective. Here, Libberton’s counsel failed to present evidence that could have established that Norton was emotionally unstable and an unreliable witness. The failure to present this evidence-or even to seek it-was unjustified and highly prejudicial. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Libberton’s death sentence and gave the state reasonable time to resentence.

Having an effective attorney is extremely important at all phases of the trial. The attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have over 30 years of experience in arguing for factors that will lessen the time served in prison. These factors could mean the difference between a few years in jail or a few months in jail, or in this case, life and death. Our attorneys aggressively defend our clients at every stage and work diligently to give our clients the best possible defense. Our attorneys can be contacted by phone at 1-888-280-6839 or through our website at

Posted In: Criminal Defense