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Murder Case Highlights Issue between State and Federal Courts

January 7, 2016

Oscar Thomas was found guilty of murdering his ex-wife back in 2006. Court documents show that the decision was primarily based on the testimony of the prosecution’s expert witness that stated for a fact Mr. Thomas’ ex-wife died of “intentional strangulation” even though there was no external bruising. Thomas argued that he didn’t receive a fair trial because his counsel did not hire an opposing expert witness to counter with another forensic opinion. The state circuit court, however, denied Thomas’ request because they didn’t find any negligence on the attorney’s part. The state appeals court also denied his request, “but only on the ground that Thomas was not prejudiced by his counsel’s conduct, without addressing deficiency.”  The Seventh Circuit, though, sided with Mr. Thomas stating that “given the weakness of the state’s case, especially as it relates to Thomas’s intent, had counsel reach out to a forensic pathologist, or another expert similar to the habeas expert, and the expert testified, there is a reasonable probability the outcome of the trial would have turned out differently.”

This case has called attention to the differing opinions as to how much deference federal appeals courts must give to state court decisions that have rejected a prisoner’s deficiency claims. Wisconsin, in this case, believes that Federal Courts are not honoring Congress’ mandates to afford significant deference to state courts under the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.

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