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Murder Conviction Reversed

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Times Staff Writer

The federal appeals court in San Francisco on Wednesday reversed the murder conviction of a paraplegic who has been on death row since 1984 for fatally shooting two Riverside police officers from his wheelchair.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 3 to 0 that the trial judge denied Jackson C. Daniels Jr. his constitutional right to counsel by refusing to recognize that Daniels had a conflict with his court-appointed public defender, because of a previous problem he had with the Riverside County public defender’s office.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Nov. 5, 2005 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday November 05, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 69 words Type of Material: Correction
Reversed conviction -- An article in Thursday’s California section about an appeals court’s reversal of a murder conviction against a paraplegic accused of fatally shooting two Riverside police officers said Jackson C. Daniels told his attorney that police had shot him nine times in 1980 and that he had “paid them back because of what they had done to him.” Daniels said that to his caretaker, not his attorney.

When the judge finally replaced the lawyer nine months later, it was with a former prosecutor with no criminal defense experience and only three months to prepare the case, the court found.

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The performance of Daniels’ trial lawyers fell well below professional norms and prejudiced the outcome of his case, Judge Harry Pregerson wrote.

“It is clear in this case that Daniels shot the two officers and is guilty of some type of unlawful killing,” Pregerson wrote. “However, as demonstrated” during a hearing years after the crime, “there was evidence that his mental state at the time of the offense could have been used as a defense to first-degree murder.”

A prison psychiatrist had first diagnosed Daniels as schizophrenic as early as 1965 when he was incarcerated for another crime, the judge added.

Deputy Atty. Gen. Warren P. Robinson, who defended the verdict on appeal, said he thought the 9th Circuit had made a faulty decision, based in part on the assumption that Daniels had mental problems.

“The only mental problem he has is that he is a sociopath,” Robinson said.

The attorney general’s office has not decided whether it will ask the 9th Circuit to rehear the case with a larger panel of judges or seek review from the U.S. Supreme Court, he said.

If those avenues are unsuccessful, the Riverside County district attorney’s office said it would retry Daniels.

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The killings drew widespread attention at the time, with 3,000 people attending the slain officers’ funerals. A memorial for them remains outside Riverside police headquarters.

The California Supreme Court unanimously upheld Daniels’ conviction and sentence in 1991.

Years later, J. Spencer Letts, a federal district court judge in Los Angeles, sustained the murder conviction but threw out the death sentence, citing the trial lawyer’s shoddy performance at the penalty phase of the case.

But the 9th Circuit said the “irreconcilable conflict” between Daniels and his trial lawyer deprived him of effective assistance of counsel for the entirety of the case, resulting in a violation of his 6th Amendment rights.

Daniels, a 66-year-old paraplegic, has been living in a hospital at San Quentin State Prison for the entire time he has been on death row.

He became a paraplegic in 1980 when he was shot nine times by Riverside police officers as he was trying to flee from a bank robbery. Under a plea agreement negotiated by a public defender, Daniels pleaded guilty in exchange for being permitted to remain free on his own recognizance for six months so he could seek medical treatment. When his appeal of that conviction failed, Daniels was ordered to surrender to authorities.

When Daniels failed to turn himself in, a warrant was issued for his arrest and Officers Dennis Doty and Phil Trust went to get him at a friend’s house where Daniels had a caretaker. While the caretaker was helping dress him, Daniels drew a gun from between his legs and fatally shot Doty and Trust.

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Daniels told his attorney that the police had shot him nine times earlier and that he had “paid them back because of what they had done to him,” according to the 9th Circuit ruling. Daniels was arrested soon after that.

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Times staff writer Lance Pugmire in Riverside contributed to this report.

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