Idaho Supreme Court rejects appeal from death row inmate
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by a man condemned to death row twice for two separate murders.
In the written ruling issued Wednesday, a majority of the justices agreed Erick Virgil Hall was given a fair trial and had adequate representation when he was tried and sentenced to death for the kidnapping, rape and murder of flight attendant Lynn Henneman. Two justices dissented with the majority opinion, saying they agreed Hall was guilty of the crimes but felt there were errors made in the process of sentencing him to the death penalty.
Henneman was from New York but was on a layover in Boise on Sept. 24, 2000 when she took a walk on the greenbelt. Prosecutors said that’s when Hall kidnapped her, raped her and strangled her with a sweater. The investigation went without a suspect for three years until police investigating the rape and murder of Cheryl Ann Hanlon in the Boise foothills questioned Hall and realized his DNA sample matched swabs collected from Henneman’s body.
Hall was later also sentenced to death for Hanlon’s murder.
The latest ruling from the state’s highest court applies only to appeals Hall made in connection with the Henneman murder case.
Justice Robyn Brody wrote the majority opinion on behalf of herself, Chief Justice Roger Burdick and Justice Warren Jones, finding in part that Hall’s trial attorney represented him adequately, that Hall waived his rights to claim the jurors were biased because he didn’t object once they were impaneled, and that a couple of clerical errors in his grand jury indictment — including a wrong date and one missing signature — didn’t have an impact on his case.
The majority also said that Idaho’s laws requiring jurors to find certain “aggravating circumstances” before imposing a death sentence were not unconstitutionally vague.
But that didn’t sit well with Justices Joel Horton and pro tem Justice Wayne Kidwell, who each wrote dissenting opinions.
Horton said the jurors were given irrelevant and prejudicial evidence when they were told of Hall’s prior felony convictions for grand theft and escape, as well as his history other crimes and acts of violence against women. Horton also said a jury instruction that mentioned the governor could pardon people who are convicted had no real merit, and only served to diminish the jury’s sense of responsibility.
Kidwell, meanwhile, said he believes Hall’s case shows that Idaho’s death penalty law is unconstitutional because it is too vague. Kidwell said changes made in recent years to add the words “exceptional depravity” to Idaho’s law allowing death sentences for those who commit murders that are “especially heinous, atrocious and cruel” didn’t make it less vague.
“I respectfully suggest that this is just word salad,” Kidwell wrote. “Vague words remain vague when more vague words are added.”