Court Cases By State - Oklahoma

Court Cases by Oklahoma

Murphy v. State
54 P. 2d 556 (Okl. Crim. App. 2002)

Murphy was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. He urged in this post-conviction proceeding, among other things, that he had been denied the effective assistance of counsel because his trial attorney failed to develop and offer evidence that Murphy had FAS/FAE.

The court held that any such failure by the trial attorney was not serious enough to constitute ineffective assistance under the standard set in   Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362 (2000).

"[T]he post-conviction affidavits and evidentiary materials do not demonstrate a failure by Petitioner's trial counsel to present mitigating evidence of a constitutionally sufficient magnitude, as that in Williams. . . . [J]urors were told a great deal about Petitioner's life. The post-conviction affidavits and evidentiary materials certainly tell us more, but that will almost always be the case when you view a trial in hindsight."

54 P. 2d at 564. The court declined even to conduct an evidentiary hearing on the ineffectiveness claim, holding both (1) that the actions of the trial attorney did not fall below "professional norms" and (2) that there was not a "reasonable probability" that the outcome would have been different if evidence of FAS (and other mitigating evidence) had been introduced. The second assertion, common in FAS ineffectiveness claims, was (as usual) unexplained.

The court's analysis of the sufficiency of the trial attorney's actions appears to rest at least in part on a misunderstanding of the relevant science. (1) Murphy's birth mother assertedly told the attorney she only drank two beers a day; the court seems to have assumed, incorrectly, that this was too little alcohol consumption to cause any harm. 54 P. 2d at 565 n. 8. See also id. (Mother told attorney her drinking during the pregnancy was "minimal"). (2) The attorney talked with a physician and they noted the "absence of any visible characteristics of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome." 54 P. 2d at 565 n. 8. But that would not rule out FAE; if they meant only that those characteristics were not present when Murphy was an adult, their absence would not even rule out FAS. (3) The attorney stated that family members "never contradicted" the mother's assertion that her drinking was "minimal"; it is unclear whether the attorney asked the family members, or whether the family members knew what the mother had said.

Later the mother's sister described the mother as an alcoholic during the pregnancy. This case highlights the risk in relying solely on the birth mother for information about whether or not she drank during the pregnancy.

A neurologist hired for purposes of the post-conviction proceedings concluded that Murphy had FAS/FAE. The court dismissed this diagnosis on the ground that the neurologist "apparently" relied solely on the conflicting evidence about how much the mother drank. 54 P. 2d at 564 n. 8. This aspect of the opinion highlights the importance of making clear what information an expert relied on in making a diagnosis.