Supreme Court Sides with State, Stays Retrial Order in Death-Penalty Case

By Matthew Vadum
Matthew Vadum
Matthew Vadum
contributor
Matthew Vadum is an award-winning investigative journalist and a recognized expert in left-wing activism.
September 21, 2021 Updated: September 21, 2021

The Supreme Court sided with Ohio in putting on hold an appeals court ruling from June that threw out a conviction and death sentence imposed on prisoner August Cassano, who complained that a trial court denied him his Sixth Amendment right to represent himself.

An execution date had not yet been scheduled.

Late on Sept. 20, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh ordered that the June 17 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit was stayed, giving Cassano’s jailer time to file a petition for certiorari, or review, of the appeals court decision with the Supreme Court.

Kavanaugh did not provide reasons explaining his decision.

The Supreme Court case is Shoop v. Cassano, court file 21A34. Tim Shoop is a prison warden.

The case goes back 24 years when Cassano was serving a prison sentence at Mansfield Correctional Institution in Ohio for a 1976 murder conviction. On Oct. 17, 1997, Walter Hardy was moved into Cassano’s cell. This made Cassano, who described Hardy as a snitch, very upset. When another inmate mentioned that Cassano had a new cellmate, Cassano replied, “Not for long.” Cassano told another inmate that Hardy “was driving him nuts,” and that if Hardy was not removed from his cell, he would take action himself to remove him, according to the 6th Circuit opinion.

Four days after Hardy was moved into Cassano’s cell, the two got into a fight. Correctional officers ordered them to stop but Cassano stabbed his roommate with a makeshift knife about 75 times. Hardy was removed to a hospital where he died roughly an hour later.

During his trial, Cassano expressed a lack of confidence in his counsel, saying he “rarely visited him, failed to provide him with updates on the case, and frequently lied to him.” Cassano stated that he wished to represent himself. The trial judge was unmoved and insisted that it would not be in his best interests to represent himself.

In its 2-1 decision, the 6th Circuit held that Cassano’s constitutional rights under Faretta v. California, a 1975 Supreme Court ruling, were violated and reversed his conviction, ordering  Ohio to retry him within six months.

The majority opinion was written by Judge Eric L. Clay and was joined by Judge Bernice Donald. Judge Eugene Edward Siler Jr. dissented.

After Cassano waived his right to counsel, he was entitled to a so-called Faretta hearing at which the judge would take evidence and decide whether the accused person should be allowed to represent himself. At such a hearing, the judge must make sure the person is waiving his right to counsel “knowingly, intelligently, voluntarily, and with awareness of the general dangers of self-representation.”

“Because the trial court denied Cassano’s May 14, 1998 Waiver of Counsel without holding a Faretta hearing, Cassano’s conviction cannot stand,” the appeals court stated. “Accordingly, Cassano’s habeas petition must be granted.”

“Cassano’s conviction also cannot stand” because on April 23, 1999, the trial court denied his “invocation of his Sixth Amendment right to self-representation.”

In his dissenting opinion, Judge Siler stated that Cassano had never made it unambiguously clear that he was waiving his right to counsel.

He added he agreed with the majority “that the trial court never conducted a Faretta-compliant hearing,” but argued no such hearing was needed.

“No clearly established Supreme Court precedent required it.” Siler wrote.

The Epoch Times reached out for comment to counsel of record on both sides, Ohio Solicitor General Benjamin M. Flowers, and federal public defender Erin Gallagher Barnhart, but had not received a reply from either as of press time.

Matthew Vadum
contributor
Matthew Vadum is an award-winning investigative journalist and a recognized expert in left-wing activism.