US Supreme Court refuses to hear Idaho death row inmate's case

US Supreme Court refuses to hear Idaho death row inmate's case
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to consider the case of Idaho death-row inmate Paul Ezra Rhoades, effectively ending the appeals of his death sentence.

Rhoades was convicted of three murders in Idaho Falls and Blackfoot in 1988 and sentenced to death for two of them. In his petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, Rhoades said a lower court judge was wrong to refuse to have an evidentiary hearing on claims that his attorneys were ineffective when it came time to present evidence of mental illness during his sentencing.

The ruling means Rhoades could become the first person executed in Idaho since 1994, and the only person to be involuntarily executed in the last half-century.

But Rhoades still has a few options to potentially stop or stave off an execution. He's already filed a lawsuit challenging Idaho's method of lethal injection in Boise's U.S. District Court; the judge in that case could decide to issue another stay of execution while that lawsuit works its way through the courts.

Rhoades also could choose to ask the Idaho State Parole Commission for clemency. The parole commission would then have to decide whether to consider his request, and if it does, whether to make a recommendation on the matter to the governor, who is the only state official with the authority to grant clemency or temporarily stop the execution.

Either way, officials at the Idaho Department of Correction already are taking the steps necessary to hold an execution, including building a new execution chamber and revamping state policy to reflect current court rulings.

Rhoades was given two death sentences for the rape and murder of 34-year-old Idaho Falls teacher Susan Michelbacher in March 1987 and another two death sentences for the February 1987 murder and kidnapping of 24-year-old Stacy Dawn Baldwin, a Blackfoot convenience store clerk. Rhoades also was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole after pleading guilty to the March 1987 murder of 21-year-old Nolan Haddon, a Blackfoot man who worked at an Idaho Falls convenience store.

Rhoades has already appealed and lost several aspects of his case. In his only remaining challenge, he asked the U.S. Supreme Court to find that a lower court judge should have held a hearing to consider evidence on his claim that his attorneys didn't do enough to investigate his mental health issues, which Rhoades said would have showed he deserved a lesser sentence. For instance, Rhoades said his attorneys didn't provide their own experts with enough information about Rhoades' past mental health problems, family issues and drug use.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has already rejected that claim. In a July 2010 ruling, 9th Circuit Judge Pamela Ann Rymer said that even if all of Rhoades' mitigating evidence had been presented at his sentencing, it wouldn't have outweighed the heinousness of his crimes.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to mail its ruling to the 9th Circuit, which will then issue a mandate to the federal court in Boise lifting the stay of execution on Rhoades' case. That will free the Idaho Attorney General's Office to ask a Bonneville County judge for a death warrant.

The judge would then set an execution date within 30 days of issuing the death warrant.

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