The Ninth Circuit yesterday affirmed the denial of a habeas corpus petition filed by William Dennis, whose death sentence the California Supreme Court affirmed in People v. Dennis (1998) 17 Cal.4th 468.

The federal panel’s unpublished memorandum in Dennis v. Broomfield holds the district court properly rejected claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, particularly during the penalty phase of Dennis’s trial for the 1984 machete murder of his eight-months-pregnant ex-wife and the second degree murder of his ex-wife’s fetus. The Supreme Court stated, “Defendant’s counsel argued the killings resulted from mental illness and were not premeditated or deliberated.” (17 Cal.4th at p. 489.)

The Ninth Circuit declined to resolve a dispute between Dennis and the prosecution about the appropriate standard of review: “while we conclude the analysis from the California Supreme Court meets [the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act’s] test for deferential review, we also hold that even if we reviewed the relevant issues de novo, we would reach the same conclusions.”

The Ninth Circuit usually, but not always, refuses to overturn Supreme Court death penalty decisions.


“From the bench, an ‘impotent silence’ ”